Earlier this week, I put a post online advising people how to block twitter bots. This was prompted by a huge amount of people complaining about bots retweeting their competition entries.

Once such bot writer posted a comment on the post, defending their actions. It was the first time I’d heard directly from a bot author. I thought it would be interesting to hear more. Sarah E agreed to answer a few questions about her activities. She was open and honest about what she had done and had lots of arguments to defend her actions. Here’s what Sarah had to say.

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Did you enter competitions manually before you created the bot?

Yes – I’m a bit of a completist: I used to go to the listing websites and enter every single Twitter competition I could find, regardless of the prize. I reasoned if I won something didn’t want it, I could always get the promoter to redraw.

How did the bot come about?

There’s always a quicker & easier way to do things. It was taking about an hour a day to retweet all the competitions, it became a bit tedious. I’ve always enjoyed programming and had previous knowledge of the Twitter API so it made sense to write a program to do those entries for me.

Did you write it yourself? Or do you use a modified 3rd party twitter service?

I wrote the bot from scratch myself, however, I do use 3rd party Twitter services to schedule when the retweets are actually sent. I was using the same kind of services when I was comping manually, as I believe many compers do.

How successful is the bot compared to manually entering competitions?

About the same. No promoter likes to see an account that’s full of competition retweets from their competitors, so I think my hit rate has been lower than it would be if I used the same account for my personal tweets & my comping tweets. I win 2 or 3 competitions a month through Twitter – the quantity over quality approach isn’t the best though: on the very rare occasion I’ve used my personal Twitter account to enter a competition, I’ve almost always won… 4 retweet competitions entered in 2015 and 3 competitions won.

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Manual compers – you’re probably aware that they are not keen at all on twitter bots. They believe that people who use bots are cheating. What would you say to these compers?

Chances are the majority are using bots too, but they don’t realise it. Unless they’re typing out their names and address manually on every competition entry, then there’s a computer script that’s doing the work for them.

A robot does repetitive tasks that a human can’t, or is unwilling, to do. At its most basic level, it’s using auto-fill in your browser. If you’re using a program like Roboform – it’s called “Robo” form for a reason: it’s a robot, a bot.

And if you feel okay about using a bot to fill in forms automatically, I feel perfectly okay using a bot to retweet competition tweets. I don’t consider it cheating at all.

Have any promoters indicated that they won’t offer a prize to a bot (as far as you know)?

Twitter comps are usually lacking in terms and conditions. Many website competitions have T&C’s saying they won’t accept automated or third party entries, but I’ve not come across a promoter who’s anti-robot on Twitter. The recent National Lottery Twitter competition had a bunch of terms and conditions, but it didn’t have “one entry per person” anywhere, or anything about automated entries… it’s competitions like that where programmers will really flourish, by using multiple Twitter accounts to enter. I only use my one comping account, but there would be nothing stopping me from creating 50 additional accounts and running the same bot (therefore getting 50 entries per RT competition): that’s where the line gets a bit blurry for me.

Twitter competitions. RT and follow isn’t the most subtle way to run a competition. I’m not a fan at all. Would you agree that promoters need to be a bit more imaginative when running competitions?

I really do. Instead of RT competitions, the promoter should be asking people to tweet a photo, or a joke, or describe something in the tweet. I’d rather all entries received were then chosen from randomly, as I think judging can be a bit problematic – you can honestly believe you’ve come up with the most original tweet, then find someone who tweeted it 6 years before you (I tweeted ‘William It Was Really Stuffing’ recently, thinking I was being funny about a song by The Smiths… only to find out 30 other people had tweeted the same since 2009). That’s a different matter entirely though!

Do you use bots for any other type of competitions?

I use Roboform to fill in forms, of course. I use Google Search Agents to send me emails when there are new competitions matching certain keywords. I have a bunch of hotkeys set up for filling out Gleam entries and similar. I could probably write a Facebook script, but promoters are a bit more creative there, and often ask for you to comment with a particular phrase or answer a question, so the work probably wouldn’t be worth it.

And I think people forget: robots take work too. It’s just a different kind of work to manually working your way through a list, and for me, programming and refining my bot is a much more enjoyable task than hitting that retweet button a 100 times a day.

 

Thanks to Sarah for being so candid about her work.

Has reading this changed your mind on twitter bots? What are your feelings about them?