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Poll Bots: Faking Poll Results With Bots

In 2024, a crucial presidential election year in the United States, voters will encounter a deluge of polls. It’s important to be aware that many of these, particularly online, might be influenced by automated bots. These bots are programmed to sway public opinion on various topics or political candidates and are prevalent on platforms like X (formerly Twitter), Discord, Reddit, and others. Their results are often picked up and circulated by news organizations across the country, amplifying their impact.

With advancements in AI, poll bots are increasingly able to replicate human voting behaviors, making them more challenging to detect. This article aims to shed light on the nature of these bots, their operational mechanisms, and the steps you can take to identify and mitigate their influence. Understanding poll bots is crucial for maintaining an informed perspective in the face of potential manipulation in online polls and surveys.

What is a poll bot?

A “poll bot” is a software program or bot designed to automatically participate in online polls. These bots can be programmed to cast votes repeatedly in an online poll, usually to sway the results in favor of a particular option. Poll bots are often used in situations where the outcome of an online poll is seen as significant or beneficial to certain groups or individuals.

They can skew the results of a poll, making it unreliable as a measure of genuine public opinion or preference. In some cases, their use can also be illegal, especially if they are used to manipulate public opinion or for fraudulent purposes.

The technology behind these bots can vary, but they typically operate by simulating human interactions with a website, such as clicking on a specific option or filling out a form. Advanced poll bots might use techniques to bypass security measures like CAPTCHAs or IP address checks, which are designed to prevent automated voting.

How do poll bots work?

To make multiple votes possible, poll bots often employ tactics to bypass common online poll security measures. These measures might include CAPTCHA tests, which are designed to distinguish between humans and bots, or systems that track IP addresses to limit the number of votes per user. Advanced poll bots might use optical character recognition to solve CAPTCHAs, or they might employ a network of proxy servers or VPNs to mask and change their IP addresses, allowing them to vote repeatedly without being detected.

In some cases, poll bots are part of larger networks called botnets, which use many computers to generate a high volume of votes. This scalability makes them particularly effective at swaying poll results. However, as online polling systems evolve and implement stricter security measures, poll bot programmers must continuously update their bots to navigate these new defenses.

Example of a poll bot

Below is a poll bot in action. In this case it’s being used to automatically vote on any poll using PollDaddy’s leading polling platform (now “CrowdSignal”). This polling software is used by BBC, Microsoft, Forbes, and others.

6 Example uses of poll bots

here are some example scenarios where poll bots might be used, keeping in mind that these uses are typically unethical and often violate the terms of service of websites:

  1. Influencing Public Opinion for Elections: This is a big one. Poll bots can be used to manipulate the results of online polls related to political or social issues. By artificially inflating the support for a particular viewpoint or candidate, the results can give a misleading impression of public opinion.
  2. Marketing and Promotion: Companies or individuals might use poll bots to win online contests or polls where the results can lead to promotional benefits, like winning awards, gaining visibility, or receiving endorsements.
  3. Entertainment and Popularity Contests: In the entertainment industry, poll bots may be used to influence votes in contests like online music charts, movie awards, or TV show polls, creating a false perception of popularity or fan base size.
  4. Social Media Influence: On Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) and other social media platforms, poll bots can be deployed to sway the results of polls posted by influencers, brands, or media outlets, potentially affecting the perceived popularity or reception of products, services, or ideas.
  5. Research and Data Manipulation: In some cases, poll bots might be used to skew online surveys or research polls, affecting the data collected and potentially leading to incorrect conclusions or insights.
  6. Creating a False Consensus: Poll bots can be used to create a sense of false consensus around specific issues, products, or beliefs, influencing public perception and discussion.

How to detect if a poll bot has voted

Detecting if a poll bot has voted in an online poll can be challenging, but there are several indicators and methods you can use:

Unusual Voting Patterns: Sudden surges in votes, especially in a short time frame, can be a red flag. If a particular option in a poll receives an unusually high number of votes in a brief period, it might indicate bot activity.

Consistency in Voting Intervals: Poll bots often vote at regular intervals, which can be more consistent than human voting patterns. Look for patterns in the time stamps of votes.

IP Address Analysis: Multiple votes from the same IP address, or from IP addresses that are known to be proxies or part of a VPN, can suggest bot activity. However, sophisticated bots might use a range of IP addresses to avoid detection.

Geographical Inconsistencies: If the poll is intended for a specific geographic audience and you receive a large number of votes from outside that region, this might indicate bot activity.

Completion of a Hidden “Honeypot” Field: Honeypots are hidden fields that only bots see. Learn more about Honeypots.

CAPTCHA Effectiveness: If you have a CAPTCHA in place and still receive an unusually high number of votes, it might suggest that bots are successfully bypassing it.

Analysis of User Behavior: Bots often lack the complex behavior patterns of human users, such as navigating through other pages on the site or spending time reading content before voting.

Engagement and Interaction: Low engagement or interaction rates compared to the number of votes (like comments or shares) can be another sign of bot activity.

Consulting Web Analytics: Web analytics tools can provide insights into traffic patterns and user behavior that may indicate bot activity.

AI Analysis: Advanced detection might involve using AI and machine learning algorithms that can analyze voting patterns and identify anomalies that suggest bot activity.

How to make a poll bot

what is a poll bot warning

The development of a poll bot varies for each platform, with unique software needed for different sites like Discord, Reddit, or other polling platforms such as Crowd Signal (formerly known as PollDaddy). For those interested in creating a poll bot, there are a few key components required:

1)  PollBbot Scripts:

There are several open source scripts on github and you’ll need a basic developer understanding to use these tools:

    • PollMommy is one you can use to vote on PollDaddy polls (now “Crowd Signal”). As mentioned ealier, PollDaddy’s polling platform is one of the largest on the market and used by major brands such as Forbes and the BBC.
    • Voter is a poll bot for use on Steam. We haven’t tried this ourselves as it’s an older script and you need to be logged in to use it, but it’s worth a shot.
    • AutoHotkey – This is software that can be used to program mouse movements to vote on polls. You can have it vote, then refresh the page, then vote again. Rinse and repeat.

2)  Proxies:

Proxies are crucial for the operation of poll bots. They provide anonymity, speed, and the appearance of a widespread voter base. By cycling through various proxy IPs, poll bots can cast votes from different locations, thus bypassing security measures that detect and block repetitive voting patterns.

3)  Accounts:

Certain polls restrict voting to one vote per user, necessitating unique accounts for each vote. This means creating multiple accounts with individual passwords, which can then be integrated into your poll bot script.

How to stop votebots

To safeguard against the influence of votebots, here are some effective measures to implement:

1. Implementing Honeypots: Honeypots are invisible fields embedded in the form’s code, invisible to human users but often filled out by bots scanning the code. Any response that includes data in these fields can be flagged as invalid. Honeypots are a subtle yet effective way to distinguish between human and automated responses.

2. Utilizing Fraud Detection Services: Services like ours, Fraud Blocker, can be invaluable in identifying and tracking bot activities in online advertising. Other tools can help identify bots for non-paid traffic.

3. Requiring Identity Verification: To curb the proliferation of bots, integrating some form of personal identification verification can be crucial. Options include requiring a payment method on file or verification of an aged account status, adding an additional layer of security.

4. Reporting Suspected Bot Activity: In cases where bot activity is suspected, reporting to the administrators of the website or platform can be a critical step. They possess more extensive tools and access to data that can be used to investigate and address such issues.

5. Careful Selection of Poll/Survey Providers: When collaborating with external companies for conducting polls or surveys, it’s important to choose those with a strong reputation and proven measures to combat bot attacks. Ensuring the credibility and security of these providers is key to maintaining the integrity of your polls and surveys.

Adopting these strategies can significantly enhance the security and reliability of online voting systems, protecting them from the manipulative impacts of votebots.

Stop poll bots with a honeypot

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