All right, we can agree that this is probably a bot. But what about the person, or entity, leaving this comment on multiple people's accounts?
Surely just another spambot, right? No, actually. Further investigation revealed that the account belonged to a real person who had fallen for someone else's scheme--that person being the user @CLICK_HERE_FOR_386_FOLLOWS. @allachka999 had bought the story that if she spammed other people's accounts with a link to @CLICK_HERE_FOR_386_FOLLOWS, she would--you guessed it--acquire 386 new followers. Verdict: real person acting as mouthpiece for probable bot, and donning a bot costume in the process.
But what about the people who alternate inspirational quotes with plugs for pyramid-scheme mascara? What about the users who bombard others with "follow for follow" or "tags for likes" requests?
There are so many subtle gradations between "unequivocally a person" and "unequivocally a bot" that it can be hard to tell where sentience ends and bothood begins. At what point does a friendly social-media site become a William Gibson-esque dystopia? At what point does an individual become a content aggregator? And, you might well ask, at what point does healthy skepticism become wild-eyed paranoia?
I began mulling over these questions yesterday, when a sketchy-looking account commented on a selfie I'd posted, and I surprised myself by telling off said commenter:
Yes, I could easily have ignored this comment, but I felt simultaneously unnerved and violated. Unnerved because I didn't know whether the person who left the comment was a person at all; violated because this person (or algorithm) was using a photo of my face as a platform for self-promotion. Presumably, I was supposed to be so flattered by the lipstick compliment (NARS Angela, tyvm) that I would click on the mystery account and sign up for the service that she/it/whatever was offering. Gross.
But curiosity won over, and I actually did investigate the account, which represented a website that promoted bloggers somehow. This offended me even more. Did I really come off as the sort of person who would sign up for that service? Well, maybe, much as I hated to admit it. I had a blog, and I used my Instagram in part to draw attention to my blog. I tagged my makeup posts with #bbloggers and #nars and #pinklipstick. On the person-bot spectrum, I was far closer to "person," but hell if I didn't have bot inclinations. It was a sobering discovery.
Sobering, too, to reflect that the thrill I felt on gaining a new follower wasn't far removed from the impulse to spam other accounts with "f4f??" comments. (By the way, have these people never seen personal ads in which "f4f" means something very different?) When I first joined Instagram, I was appalled at how many users were willing to make themselves look desperate for the sake of collecting followers. I understood why a monetized account would need followers, but why, I wondered, should a normal lipstick-wearing latte-photographing civilian beg for likes and follows? Why choose to resemble a spambot so closely? Now, though, I see that these questions were a little disingenuous. I know perfectly well why people want thousands of followers: because, as Matthew Arnold wrote back in 1852, "we mortal millions live alone." Chalk it up to the agony of subjectivity, the hunger for connection. Yes, I am popular! Yes, people like my selfies! Ten more followers and I can forget about being teased in eighth grade! YES!!! Ironically, it's the desire to feel more human that leads us to act like bots.
That said, don't use my personal account as a billboard. Seriously.