What is a Viewbot?
Streaming platforms like Twitch, Mixer, and YouTube have recently exploded in popularity, creating the opportunity for the more popular content creators to bring in ad revenue and paid promotions. The marketing value of a content creator is directly dependent on their number of followers and viewers. That’s where viewbotting comes in.
What is viewbotting?
Viewbotting is the artificial inflation of concurrent view count “using illegitimate scripts or tools,” according to Twitch. Streamers use these view fraud bots to boost their streams and get on the virtual leaderboard where they hope to attract legitimate followers and views. Other platforms work the same way, promoting popular channels more than new and unpopular channels.
Streamers get these viewbots on their channels by renting them from the developers who produce the programs. In one of the more famous cases (detailed below), streamers paid $760 per month to sites like twitchstreams.org and twitchshop.com to boost their views. Thanks to these bots, stream platforms and advertisers lose millions of dollars on ads that will never reach a significant audience.
Streamers who are tempted to use viewbot software cheat themselves and the streaming community, losing respect, credibility, and damaging their reputation, often beyond repair. Other streamers who build organic audiences with valued content get knocked out of the leaderboards and “recommended” sections in favor of illegitimate accounts, at least until those accounts are found out and penalized.
The New York Times exposes fake views on YouTube
The New York Times published a revealing report called “The Flourishing Business of Fake YouTube Views” in late 2018.
The report interviews business owners that were buying fake views to help boost their likes and video views, two critical metrics that help provide social validation and can boost organic views.
However viewership analytics showed that purchased views were clearly inorganic and, once the viewbot activity ended, the real viewership of the videos fell significantly.
Source: New York Times
In 2020 YouTube launched “YouTube Select” (formerly known as “Google Premium”) to help advertisers only purchase it’s most premium videos. This network is monitored more closely for fraud and advertising-friendly environments to ensure marketers receive the best performance possible.
Anyone can easily find and buy viewbots
Any video content producer can simply buy views online through dozens of bot services that can be easily found with Google searches. These companies produce fake views for their customers and advertisers that pay for each view (a CPM model) are wasting their ad spend.
Here’s a service to boost YouTube views (I’ve intentionally not linked to their sites):
Here’s a service that can help boost Twitch views along with bots to increase followers, chatters and overall channel views.
And another one:
Some of these services do get caught.
In 2018, Twitch won a California-based lawsuit against viewbot creators Michael and Katherine Anjomi. The couple was found guilty of trademark infringement, unfair competition, breach of contract, and violation of the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. They were forced to pay over $1.35 million in damages, including the profit they made in subscriptions.
However none of the advertisers were paid back despite the harm they endured.
Special report: 22% of ad spend is lost to fraud
This in-depth report was produced by independent research firm Juniper Research who analyzed over 78,000 datasets of digital ad activity.
Some viewbots target innocent streamers
Many streamers, especially on Twitch, have experienced artificial inflation of their views without having solicited a bot at all. Bot developers deploy their bots to many different channels to hide the accounts that are paying for the views. Twitch can’t differentiate between perpetrators and victims, so they penalize all viewbotted channels to an extent.
When a channel applies for partnership with Twitch, they’re often denied if Twitch has detected artificial view inflation. Some channels are successful if their legitimate views are high enough without the bots. It’s at the platform’s discretion. Advertisers on those channels will suffer the same losses they would experience on the criminal channels, with no apparent recourse to recover their ad spend.
How to prevent viewbotting
Streamers can dismiss viewbots from a live stream by changing their status from “playing” to “not playing” and back again or restarting a stream, but this is disruptive for their audience. Advertisers and marketing executives typically don’t have the in-house resources to combat viewbotting effectively. The most effective solution is fraud prevention software that’s just as sophisticated as the bots. Fraud Blocker is a US-based fraud prevention firm that works to reduce non-human traffic and increase ROAS for advertisers.