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Redditor u/Embarrassed-Mouse-49 recently posted the following (current score of 6.9k 13k) to r/YouShouldKnow:

YSK ai bots are taking over reddit. Posting old content as if it is their own with poorly worded titles. Now they are responding to comments. But the comments are written poorly as well.

Why YSK If you see a post that doesn’t seem like it fits the sub, and has a poorly worded title. Take a look at the posters history. You will see their account is 200+ days old but they only started posting content in the past few days. This is an ai bot account.

This hasn’t been much of an issue, but now those same ai accounts have no been replying to comments on their videos.

Their replies are worded poorly and have lots of spelling mistakes.

This is worrying because people believe that these ai bots are real people and if these bots start pushing an agenda, some people may believe their agenda.

This is happening more and more frequently

Clearly the first claim ("AI bots are taking over Reddit") is hyperbole. But the subsequent claims are concrete, and could be evidenced. At the very least, it'd be nice to just have concrete examples. One comment in this thread said:

There was this one time a bot got caught red handed in the wholesome sub, with a commenter siting the original post. Turns out, the bot even copied a comment that was made in that post!!

which was the best evidence I found there (although I didn't read every single comment). Hence...

Question: At Reddit, are unofficial AI bots "posting old content as if it is their own" and "responding to comments"?

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    I've seen a common phenomenon on Reddit that a popular comment on a popular post will be repeated under a different comment, and the second one will have a response pointing out that it is a duplicate, it has been posted by a bot for reputation, and should be reported/downvoted. I am trying to work out whether this phenomenon counts. It isn't AI. It is bots replying to other comments.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 5 at 1:33
  • They've been doing this for a long time before the AI revolution - they just posted identical copies of comments instead of passing them through ChatGPT first. Commented Apr 15 at 15:19

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The existence of bots on Reddit is well-established, with entire Reddit forums dedicated to discussing how to write them and their impact, including: r/botwatch, r/Bottiquette, r/botsrights, r/redditbots.

The existence of bots that copy content is also clear:

A post on r/modhelp warns about bots that post old content for the purpose of making their accounts look real.

It's notable that this ISN'T karma-farming. They're not picking popular posts from years ago to try to re-reap the karma... they're picking posts that just got a few karma, which is indicative of subversive intentions in the future once the account has enough karma and age to be sold for astro-turfing or similar.

It gives an example - a specific bot account, showing how it has repeated old posts and generic comments to look like a real person.

Meanwhile, deliberately insert spelling errors to avoid easy detection is a known issue: For example, this r/larp guide

What are the bots up to?

Their purpose is to build up a real looking account history so the bot owner can scam or shill at a later time.

They do this by reposting content from other users. To evade filters, they will swap letters around in the title, or add bits of gibberish.

It is also established that AI-generated content is being posted by bots to social media.

This paper presents a case study about a Twitter botnet that appears to employ ChatGPT to generate human-like content. Through heuristics, we identify 1,140 accounts and validate them via manual annotation.

Note: This is Twitter, not Reddit. I found papers on Amazon Reviews and general web-sites too, but not explicitly Reddit.

On the other hand, this paper gives a general overview, and examines how the fight with AI-generated content affects Reddit moderators in particular: “There Has To Be a Lot That We’re Missing”: Moderating AI-Generated Content on Reddit, arXiv:2311.12702 [cs.CY], Jan 2024.

Not all the bots are designed with malicious intent. This paper discusses an AI Bot designed to reduce misinformation about dermatology shared on Reddit. It doesn't generate natural language, but parses it so it can post appropriate canned responses. This paper describes how using a bot that posted comments could improve interactions.

In summary:

  • Yes, Reddit has many bots.
  • Yes, Reddit has malicious bots, and non-malicious ones.
  • Yes, some bots copy content - recent and old - and some bots reply to comments.
  • Yes, some bots insert deliberate typos and some bots make inapt responses to comments.
  • Yes, some bots use "aged" accounts to avoid detection.
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  • At least it's interesting that the typos are claimed to be a form of [attempts at] humanizing the bots. Of the top of my head, I'd have said cheap labor in some slave camp in Myanmar, with poor command of English. But even that's probably too expensive to use on farming reddit accounts. OTOH, the 'LARP' guide is written by some [sub]reddit MOD, but has barely 30 votes. I don't think that person knows exactly if they're dealing with bots or human users with poor skills. Commented Apr 6 at 7:37
  • @thegodsfromengineering: I interpreted the deliberate errors as an attempt to bypass filters that look for duplicates - e.g. DuplicateDestroyer 2.0
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 6 at 9:43
  • I chose the LARP post because it had a specific example of a bot, that the OP seemed to be seeking as confirmation. I was relying more on their expertise as a mod than upvotes. Other Reddit users/mods claiming bots are reposting content. Here's another list from 2021 - it doesn't have a good provenance, but shows concrete examples.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Apr 6 at 9:48
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If you look through the Embarrassed-Mouse-49's recent post before that one, what triggered them was apparently this exchange:

enter image description here

You can judge for yourself if that's evidence for the claim.

As for why their complaint post has many upvotes... I have my own opinion, which includes the fact that it ended up being ironized (in the comments) a fair bit for saying AI makes 'lots' of spelling mistakes, while making some themselves in the very post.

enter image description here

Embarrassed-Mouse-49 also has their topmost post in r/memes where people generally post their attempt at new memes. Their most successful reddit post ever:

enter image description here

(Interestingly enough, Wikipedia says Imgflip which apparently generated that meme, is AI-based.)

Whether they were trying to go for a self-ironic meme here or it just ended up like that anyhow, is in the eye of the beholder.

Quite possibly some people also agree with their post just one the claim of reposts by new accounts being a problem, regardless of the AI angle.

enter image description here

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    "Wikipedia says Imgflip which apparently generated that meme, is AI-based". While they have an AI option (for registered accounts only), their main service is letting you create memes, that is, allowing you to type text on top of an image. There's no AI involved in that.
    – Laurel
    Commented Apr 5 at 19:06

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