The Real Reason You Suck on Photo Sharing Sites – The Bots are Beating You*

Photographers join photo-sharing sites for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s as simple as a need for recognition and the occasional pat-on-the-back. In fact I suspect that’s the reason most people join these sites in the first place; a little bit of recognition is worth big dollars in the feel-good bank. Sometimes they join those sites to promote their work for financial reasons, either to sell prints or services. In the post-Instagram era I suspect that many people join in the hopes of growing a sizeable enough audience to attract sponsors, and trips and cheap booze.

Whatever the reason, the simple fact is that once you started posting, you are in competition with every other photographer on the site. Whether you like it or not, your photograph is judged alongside those of the entire membership, rank amateurs and seasoned pros alike. The aim of the game is to get your photograph in front of as many eyeballs as possible and that means playing the like-you-like-me game, getting involved, interacting, posting comments, replying to discussions – you know the drill.

But what if I was tell you Neo, that you were doing it all wrong, that many of the people you thought you were competing against in this photographic game of life, were not honest photographers working hard to get their photos seen? What if I was to tell you that this playing field is not only hilly as fuck, but littered with the spent corpses of a thousand disillusioned photographers? Hmmmm? Take the Red pill, Neo and follow me down the rabbit hole.

How to Win Bots and Influence People

Right now, at this very second, an army of bots, scripts and hacks are hard at work on all of your favourite social media and photo-sharing sites. These tools come in a wide variety of formats, from simple macro-based scripts, to polished commercial apps and all the way up to cloud based services with slick websites and monthly subscriptions. If you’ve ever wondered how some people seem to suddenly bloom in popularity, seemingly out of nowhere, then the odds are that they’re using one of these commonly available tools.

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Like most social engineering, the techniques employed by the designers of this software relies on the way that we humans interact with such social sharing sites. They work by blowing smoke up your arse and making you think that someone 1) liked your photo, or 2) thought so much of it that they took a minute out of their day to comment or 3) loved it so much that they shared it with their friends. Feeling the glowing warmth of that smoke up your back passage you of course reciprocate and like, comment and share back, because that’s the nice thing to do and you’re a nice person. Well sorry mate, but the odds are that the vast majority of times this has happened to you, you were giving a bot a reach-around.

If you’re a minor league photographer with a couple of hundred or thousand followers or even if you’ve just started out, the traffic you’re seeing on your photos will have been grossly inflated by artificial likes, comments, shares and follows. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it was the Red pill you swallowed, not the fingers-in-ears Blue pill. Don’t choke on it, we have more to discuss.

Macro, Script, Hack, Cloud

Let’s start with one of my personal favourite sites (heavy sarcasm) 500px. I wrote an article about 500px, five years ago, and it continues to be the most viewed article on this site by some margin. One of my complaints about the site was that photos were being upvoted irrelevant of quality. I don’t know why I didn’t see it at the time but it’s obvious to me now – this is the result of heavy bot usage.

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You can get a wide variety of tools to improve your standing on 500px. Why not begin a simple new user bot. This Python script available for download on Github will “automate the process of following new users on 500px.com”. That’s right friends, fire up this little script, let it loose with your account and before you know it you’ll be racking up the reciprocal follows from guileless punters.

For a more sophisticated tool, how about we check out our old favourite Flickr? Admittedly having a popular presence on this site is nowhere near as useful as the same thing on Instagram, but it’s still a helpful thing to have. The Flickr Attention bot will mass follower, mass favourite and mass comment and favourite.

Our Bot Who Art in Heaven

Such is the sophistication of the modern popularity bot that these days you can buy yourself a subscription to a cloud based service. These are particularly popular with Instagram users looking to increase their fanbase and not prepared to, like, be good at taking photographs.

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Over at Instagress they’re not hiding their light under a bushell – in fact their front page proudly claims that their tools can,

Accelerate your life on Instagram for more targeted likes, comments and follows

For a very reasonable $10 a month, their cloud-based services enables you to,

Create a small robot clone of yourself with the same interests and style, and then let it work for you on Instagram

All the goodness, none of the calories friends. Or how about Gramista – it’s four times the price of Instagress, but they do promise that,

Gramista will automate liking, following and unfollowing just like a human being would.

That’s right, not only will their product pointlessly follow people in a shameless effort to boost your own flagging viewer numbers, but they will also unfollow you if you don’t return the favour! It’s hilarious isn’t it.

Over at RoboLike, for a commendable $13.99 a month you can automate both your Instagram and your Twitter interaction. The team say that,

With the Robolike Instagram auto bot coming in at around 80 likes per hour and Twitter auto bot at 60 per hour, you get way more exposure to your account then you can do alone. Put your thumbs to rest and let us do the liking for you.

Because god forbid a photograph receives an actual human response of some sort. It’s pure gold mates.

Click Farms Are So 2016

You’ve probably heard about the digital sweatshops in Asia and Africa where a small army of impoverished mouse-clickers will descend on your Facebook page and shower you in utterly meaningless likes, all for the price of a Satsuma. Well, I’m guessing that the move to fully automated systems is bad news for the Mumbai economy. Or maybe all those click-farmers have transitioned into the far more lucrative encryption-ransom and fake-Microsoft-support games now. It’s important to keep your portfolio fluid, after all.

Over at MonsterSocial (“Undefeated for more than 3 years. Our 2000 customers can’t be wrong!”) they claim to be,

The #1 automation bot for Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Twitter

These guys will let you automate every element of your social media presence and, while I can’t see it in the small print, I believe they’ll even shake your dick for you once you’ve finished pissing. Check out the video below where a dude walks through the whole process of farming likes using stolen or fake Facebook accounts.

I know, right? And if you’d rather not entrust your accounts to a cloud based service then there are many software companies producing apps to help your accounts out of the no-friends doldrums. At BoosterBots they will sell you software to fake your popularity on 500px, Behance, Cafepress, eBay, Instagram, Etsy, Facebook, Pheed, Pinterest, Redbubble and Twitter.

Pretty depressing, huh?

So by now you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “Fuck it, if everyone’s doing it, then count me in too.” And that of course is entirely your prerogative. If you wish to engage in the like-follow-share tennis match being played between these armies of bots, then go right ahead. You may want to consider the possible ramifications of using these bots though, should you get caught.

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All of the social media and photo sharing sites have policies about this sort of stuff. For instance Twitter has this to say about automated following and unfollowing,

You may not use or develop any application that allows for the following or unfollowing of user accounts in a bulk or automated manner. Accounts and applications that engage in this practice will be suspended.

That seems pretty black and white to me. Over at Instagram their Terms of Service say,

We prohibit crawling, scraping, caching or otherwise accessing any content on the Service via automated means, including but not limited to, user profiles and photos.

Again, that is pretty clear.

Will you get caught if you use these services? If you’re careful, probably not, there’s way too many of these apps, hacks, crack and cloud services to suggest that people are getting systematically banned as a result of using them. I certainly know from my own Instagram account that I pick up bot-rendered comments generated from a script by someone with the imagination of a carrot. The truly unimaginative ones are the guys who just put a smiley emote in there. Like their brain capacity doesn’t stretch as far as adding the word ‘Nice’ or ‘Great’ before that smiley. Hey look everyone, Nikkos the Mobile Car Detailer from Hungary just said ‘Great :)’ on my photo – it couldn’t possibly be a bot.

Now the guys over at 500px reckon they’re ahead of the curve. In a recent blog post they said,

We have automated systems in place that tell us if you’ve somehow liked 1,000 photos in 3 hours. Or left the same “V F” comment on 100 photos in the last 10 minutes. Bots beware, our ban hammer is hovering right above your automated heads… ready to drop.

To which I say, like fuck. These systems can, if used correctly, perfectly imitate the behaviour of an actual human and I defy the 500px development team to prove otherwise. Yes, some arsehole liking 1,000 photos in a couple of hours might attract attention, but someone with a decent enough comment script, with the common sense to like only about 50 photos an evening, with the chops to turn the wretched script off occasionally so that the pattern appears sort of random – you’re not catching them.

Is there a solution to all this nonsense? Of course not. As soon as the number of followers you have became a monetisable asset, it was going to be abused. You can pick up small-scale sponsorships with as few as 5,000 followers on Instagram these days and at 50,000 you’ll be getting flown to exotic locations and have ‘samples’ appearing in your post.  So why would you not try and game that system and get a piece of that corporate sponsorship money? Unfortunately that makes a mockery out of the entire system, its most popular content (even if it is legitimate) tainted by the stink coming from the shots that have been gamed to the top. And I’ll tell you something else too – it’s only going to get worse.

* Of course it is also possible that you just suck. Like, really badly suck.

20 Replies to “The Real Reason You Suck on Photo Sharing Sites – The Bots are Beating You*”

  1. […] About the author: Andy Hutchinson is a photographer and journalist based in South Coast, New South Wales, Australia. You can find more of his work and words on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram. This article was also published here. […]

    1. I’ve noticed a huge uptick in the usage of these bots on Instagram for awhile now and it is usually pretty obvious when it is being done. You go to someone’s profile and they have 150 photos that are all mediocre at best but have 20k+ followers… you know its a bot-driven account. My approach is to ignore this race to the bottom and engage with real fans in authentic ways. I may only have a few thousand followers but they are into my work and actually sometimes end up buying my stuff. I once wrote a pretty long-winded article about this and my advice for other photographers is to stop comparing yourself to other people – as you will always find someone better, someone cheating, etc.

      1. Absolutely – and good advice 🙂

  2. Pretty much the one reason I stopped using Instagram as much as I did before. Seemed like every interaction I received came from a bot and the whole thing became more about follows and likes than about photography. It sucks because instagram was the one social media app I enjoyed using!

    1. Thanks and yea – same here – I’d say at least 75% of the traffic I get on my Insta feed is bot spam 🙂

  3. Very interesting details, I had no idea!

    1. Yea, it’s a depressing realisation 🙂

  4. the instagram bots are hilarious. Most of my photos are in black and white and I will occasionally get ones commenting “Wow great colors!”

    One type of photo that actually DOES seem to generate real comments are car pictures. Car folks actually seem to search the hashtags of their model of car and ask other owners questions.

    1. lol – yes, that would give it away a bit 🙂

  5. Love <3 <3

    haha

    But seriously, you're very right. The whole social media industry is dirty with this kind of new age low level corruption. No one talks about it. Huge respect to you for putting it out there!

  6. […] The Real Reason You Suck on Photo Sharing Sites – The Bots are Beating You* […]

  7. Enough to make me reach for a BOTtle!

  8. […] Why Do You Suck at Social Media? Bots! – Andy Hutchinson […]

  9. Very nice write up! I’ve been observing this behaviour for years and ignoring it mostly, but never thought it could be as sophisticated as this. The last thing that I noticed is someone that followed me and suspiciously always liked one of my photos 1 minute or so after uploading it. I guess I need to go and check if that person is still following me 🙂

  10. While the services themselves officially don’t like bots, don’t you think that, deep down, they don’t really care that much? It’s boosting their user numbers, “engagements”, and it’s making a lot of the users feel like they are popular. As much as the users want to keep up the social media face, the services also want to look big compared to others.

  11. I think all this is a very good thing !! Very good indeed. Why ? Because it will eventually kill those platforms… And that is a good thing. Because I could never really see the usefulness of IG, FB, etc… Make your own website/blog… be good in what you do … have a brand… have a message.. a dammed story to tell…and you will get attention / recognition or whatever floats your boat… IG / 500px / FLICKR die you shall and not tear I shall cry….
    DOMINIK
    https://dominik-photography.com/

    1. @Dominik, well said, but the demise of bot-driven publicity on social media relies upon its audience noticing the crassness or even caring that it’s happening. And until a critical number of marketing executives and business owners from the Millennials and Generation X find that self-publicity on social media isn’t effective, there’ll always be a vested interest in sustaining it. I think there’s a perceptional shift coming but it’ll have to wait until the hotshots from Generation Z replace the likes of Zuckerberg in the corporate world.

  12. What an eye-opener… This explains a lot.

  13. Leonard Betts says: Reply

    That’s what I get for my annoying tendency to take things at face value…I’ve been well aware of the bots for a long time now, but the one stick in my craw has been the absolutely glowing adulation in the comments sections for CLEARLY MEDIOCRE photos. ‘Stunning!’ ‘Amazing work!!’ All I could figure was that the people commenting were so desperate to be liked and have their praise reciprocated that they would ignore all the rules of aesthetics. I first noticed this on Flickr (back in the day the king of bullshit compliments) and now of course it’s on Instagram. Now I understand that it’s stupid bots actually leaving the stupid comments, so thanks for setting me straight.

  14. G’day Andy, for some time i have been using 500px and i cannot get my head around that some people whose photography is very poor and muddled get very good scored and many many followers whereas better than average photographers dont. For me its a joke and thanks for letting us all know. I dont need this social media sh*t
    Phil

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