Is Your New Friend on Instagram a BOT?

Ever get a DM message request from someone on Instagram you don’t know? Happens to me all the time. They usually have a few things in common: their DMs are unsolicited, they present themselves as either famous or military, their grammar is horrible even though they claim to be American, and they are almost certainly Russian algorithms.

Here’s how I typically pick apart these Instagram accounts – and it’s fascinating stuff.  This morning’s message was fairly normal, as far as creepy IG DMs go:

The terrible grammar here is a clue, starting with claiming he is “a u.s. army”…which is not only the incorrect use of an article but where’s the capitalization? Also, if he was an American soldier in Syria I doubt he would be telling anyone.  Most humans take some time to respond to messages, his responses were immediate.

So, I took a look at his profile. Say hello to James Hesichmann!

I Googled him. No results. When I did a Google image search, I ended up with an entire page of photos from a site called www.sometag.com which www.scamadviser.com claims is based in Turkey.

If I Google the name “James Hesichman” with just one N, I get loads of results from a site called www.talkgator.com which according to www.scamadviser.com is owned by a company using a service to hide their identity.

(I realize that this TalkGator site has nothing to do with my original IG DMer, but I’m down a rabbit hole now and I cannot stop.)

My next step is to look at the photos he has posted – they’re all generic and pretty cheesy. (I hate saying that about St Mary, but I think she would back me up here.)

The interesting thing about all of this is that I cannot use Google Reverse Image Search to determine the origin of any of these photos. Instagram won’t allow me to download the image as a .png and when I try to save the image in order to *do* a search, it saves the entire web page.

In the meantime, the conversation has not improved:

If you’re not familiar with the website Hamilton 68, I would strongly encourage checking it out. They’ve identified over 600 Russian-affiliated Twitter accounts and they track what they’re talking about. I’m not saying my new bestie James is a Russian bot, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Who knows where this conversation may have turned?

Do they assume that because of our love of the military, we are more likely to respond to accounts that represent themselves as veterans or soldiers? Check out this message I received awhile ago:

LOVE TO GYM! And let’s be honest – if this guy really had abs like that, he’d have more than three posts. Look for the lack of capital letters in the names and their inability to describe the military correctly.

Creepy Instagram DMs don’t have to all be military – some might be famous, lonely country stars:

Notice how he introduces himself differently than his tag, his grammar is incorrect, and he gives me WAAAAY too much unsolicited information immediately.

I asked him for a photo of him holding that day’s Nashville newspaper. He claimed he was too busy. I asked him for a photo of him holding his right pinky finger on the tip of his nose. He claimed he was too busy.

I lied about my name and location, and I often wonder what the response would have been had I said “My name is chicken fajita.”

“Just love that name chicken fajita.”

Here’s a great site that lists some ways to determine if our online friends are bots, and here’s another great one from MIT.  And this site has the best name ever:  BOT-O-METER !

I’m a big fan of media literacy, of course, which is CRITICAL THINKING.  Time to make sure we aim those critical thinking skills at DMs as well!

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