By Jessica Huhn for DateAha!
If you’re using a dating site, you probably expect all of the users you encounter to be…well, human. Yes, there are the fakers, the scammers, and the like, but all of them are at least human, right?
Wrong. Believe it or not, bots — computer programs — run many dating profiles. And these bots are usually programmed to take full advantage of you.
How do these bots work? And more importantly, how can you spot bots and make sure you don’t fall victim to their wiles? DateAha! has the answers.
What are Bots?
Bots, also known as chatbots, are computer programs designed to send and interpret messages. They appear on a wealth of websites and apps — not just dating sites.
- Some less advanced bots send specific messages in response to humans’ typed keywords.
- More advanced bots, though, can tailor their messages to respond to humans, and sustain a conversation. These bots are programmed to detect specific keywords in your message and use these keywords to figure out the best way to respond
Outside of the online dating world, not all bots are bad. Some chatbots help companies with after-hours customer service, and others moderate live chats on social media.
But the bots behind fake online dating profiles are programmed to scam you out of something — usually, money, goods, financial information, or personal information.
- Sometimes, they’ll ask for this info directly.
- Other times, they’ll send you suspicious links to fulfill this purpose indirectly, even if you didn’t ask for a link.
These bots definitely don’t come in peace.
How Can I Spot Bots?
Their Messages Are Out Of Context
Did your match’s answer to your question make zero sense? Or did their response not make any sense in the context of your conversation? (Like, did they randomly ask for a cuddle right after you asked them about their favorite movie?) You’re almost definitely talking to a bot.
Their Messages Look Scripted
Does it look like the message you received could be sent to anyone? Bots will often use the same messages with multiple people. In fact, many are programmed to send a specific string of messages, to convince you to send money or visit specific links. (And if a bot isn’t behind the profile, you’re likely talking to a very lazy human scammer!)
They Send Repeated Messages
Did you just get the same message twice? You’re talking to a bot. It’s either a low-level bot that’s programmed to send specific messages, or a bot that read the same keyword in two of your distinct messages and thought that they merited the exact same response. Real people would never give the same response to two different messages!
They Ask For Financial Details
Some scammy bots are programmed to send scripted messages asking for money (or other financial info) after a user shows interest in their profile. Remember: even if they aren’t a bot, any dater who asks you for money or financial details is a scammer! Don’t send any money or share any info with them!
They Send a Link Even If You Didn’t Request One
That weird link they just dropped looks suspicious for a reason. It probably leads to a scammy site. Don’t click on it! It’s probably designed to make you give up some of your hard-earned money — -or your information. Or it may take you to a porn site.
Bots designed to lead you to scammy sites are programmed to try to get you off of the dating site as soon as possible. (Again, receiving a suspicious link doesn’t necessarily mean you’re talking to a bot, but you’re definitely talking to a scammer.)
They Try To Sell You Something
If you’re talking with someone and they unnaturally promote a product or website, they’re either a bot or another type of fake account. Real people out looking for real relationships usually only mention products as natural parts of a conversation (like when you ask them their occupation, and they respond that they work for a certain brand).
They Encourage Premium Upgrades
And yes, dating sites use bots for their own purposes, largely to push you to pay for premium features.
- Some attractive looking, but totally fake, bot profiles say that they will only accept messages from paid users.
- Other bots will like your profile, send you short messages, or say that they want to meet you. But then, the dating site will blur out their messages and ask you to pay to see these messages (or ask you to pay in order to message back). This is all done to trick free members into shelling out money for a subscription. And the bot profiles that do these dirty deeds usually aren’t searchable, even though the notifications often mention them by name.
- Sometimes, dating site-run bots will try to lead you to other sites, dating or otherwise, that the company behind the dating site also owns or stands to gain revenue from.
- Other bot profiles bombard you with loads of messages to make you think that your profile’s attracting a lot of attention. (This often happens right after you sign up for the site.) As you’re receiving these messages, you’ll get a push notification that tries to convince you to pay for premium features. And sometimes, you won’t be able to see some of the messages unless you pay. The bots’ messages and this premium notification are closely connected!
- In most of these cases, dating site bots will send you identical or near-identical messages (like “Hey there! Wanna chat?”), or have suspiciously similar profiles or photos.
- Often, bot profiles will have traits suspiciously tailored to your desires: a similar age, similar interests, and a nearby location — all with a highly attractive photo.
- Once a user pays, the previously blurred messages are now revealed to hold nothing meaningful. Then some site-run bots might sustain a conversation with the user, albeit a superficial one, for a bit. But then, even though the user was bombarded with messages before the upgrade, the user’s inbox becomes suspiciously empty of new messages after several hours.
They Seem Too Casual Or Too Formal
Does the dater you’re talking to always respond in formal, complete sentences — way more formally than the average person? Or does it look like they’re trying too hard to be casual, with an unnatural amount of slang, acronyms, and emojis? Bots don’t always know how to naturally sound like real people online. But some of them are getting better at sounding like real daters, so watch out!
Their Syntax Is Consistently Off
Anyone who types too quickly could send a message with a typo. But if you see typing patterns that consistently don’t make sense, that’s almost a sure sign you’re talking to a bot.
Here are some examples:
- Are there two spaces in between every word of the dater’s message?
- Are their messages indented weirdly (and are all of them indented in the same way)?
- Do they use weird punctuation, or weird spacing between words and punctuation marks? For example, do they always use two periods where there should only be one period?
You’ve probably spotted a bot.
They Respond In A Flash
I know that quick responses are exciting — a rapid reply may make it seem like the person you’re chatting with is interested in you. But what if they keep replying in a matter of milliseconds? People can’t consistently respond that fast, especially because they have plenty of commitments beyond the dating site. And once we see a message, we have to take a second to think about what we just read. But bots are programmed to analyze messages and fire off replies at lightspeed to keep you interested. Yes, a quick reply isn’t a sure sign of a bot. But hyper-quick replies that are consistently long are red flags (humans can’t type that quickly!). And so are quick replies that don’t make sense in context.
They Abruptly Stop Responding After Several Messages Back And Forth
You’ve messaged someone back and forth a few times, and their replies make you think they’re interested. Soon after, though, they completely cut off all contact without notice. Well, you’ve definitely been ghosted, but the ghoster could be a bot that ran out of programmed responses. And even if they aren’t a bot, this ghoster is not worth your time and energy!
How Can I Out Bots?
If you’ve spotted some warning signs but still aren’t sure if you’re talking to a real person or a bot, use these bot-outing techniques.
Ask The Hard Questions
Asking out-of-context, differently phrased, or hot-button questions is one of the best ways to out a dating site bot. Oxygen account executive Chris Orris has dealt with plenty of bots. When sharing ways to expose bots on the Talkspace website, he advocated for “outsmarting them by typing questions one wouldn’t typically ask in certain situations.” If you think your match is a bot, try these questions that Orris recommended. A real person will answer them correctly and properly, and may call you out for being confusing. But a bot won’t know how to answer, and you’ll easily be able to tell that your match isn’t human.
- “I hear music in the background. Or is that just me?”
- “I saw something like what you’re talking about when I was visiting Spain. Have you ever been to Spain?”
- “Dishwasher? Are you from the Pittsburgh area?”
Questions related to extremely current events also work well for outing bots, because programmers usually don’t update their bots often enough for them to keep up.
Ask Common-Sense Questions
Steve Worswick, the creator of renowned chatbot Mitsuku, recommends asking a suspected bot common-sense questions, like these:
- “Is a rat bigger than a house?”
- “Can I fit an elephant in a backpack?”
- “Is a picture frame edible?”
- “Would it hurt if I stabbed you with a towel?”
A bot will get confused and ask an unrelated question in return, make an out-of-context remark, or try to change the subject as a diversion. Here, I asked Cleverbot, a publicly available bot, whether a rat was bigger than a house. The bot didn’t understand the question, and responded with “Scissors, I win.”
Asking two related questions at once might work even better. I tried asking Cleverbot two related, common-sense questions at once: “Is a wooden chair edible? What about an hourglass?” The bot was very confused (the “what about” part probably tripped it up the most). It responded, “I think I was playing a game.”
Say “Um” or “Hmmm”
Bots don’t know how to respond to onomatopoeia like “um” and “hmmm.” They’ll probably respond with a very generic reply like “Tell me more.”
Use A Keysmash
Bots also don’t know how to respond to strings of random letters and punctuation, also called keysmashes. So, type out a string of random letters, like (fhgsv reyvceax), and see how the dater responds. If the dater ignores the keysmash and responds as if you didn’t send it, you’re talking to a bot that wants to treat the keysmash like normal words, but can’t quite figure out what to say. But if the dater questions why you sent the keysmash, they’re probably human. (Remember: many bots are programmed with diversion responses, like ‘Cool! Seen any good movies lately?” They’ll use these responses whenever they can’t make sense of a message that a human sends.)
Bots can’t read humor and sarcasm like humans can. If you use sarcasm with a bot, they’ll probably take whatever you said literally.
Make Remarks Bots Can’t Decode
When one man knew that he was talking to a dating site bot, he told it that he was planning on barbecuing a cat, just so he could see how it would respond. The bot kept chatting away as if everything the man said was perfectly normal, with no mention of barbecuing, cats…or insanity. (Obviously, a real human would respond with something like, “Barbecuing a cat? Are you insane?” or “Did I just read that right?”)
You could take a page out of this man’s book and send a weird remark to a suspected bot. For example, you could say that you’re going to throw your phone in the washer — something else no sane human would do. Bots will ignore the weird details of your message and struggle to respond properly. But it’s probably best to avoid this technique unless you’re almost certain you’re talking to a bot.
Before you make nonsensical remarks like the ones above, try these messages instead, recommended by Chris Orris:
- “Man, you sound like you’re having the same kind of Monday I’m having.
- “You know, you sound a lot like my sister.”
These messages might seem perfectly normal to humans like us, but bots will get confused by the language patterns in the messages, and reply with something totally unrelated.
The main takeaway from all these bot-outing points? As you work to determine whether your match is human, look for out-of context replies, including replies that don’t answer the question you ask, or “deflection” replies meant to change the subject. Did you spot a bot thanks to these techniques? It’s time to report the bot to the dating site.
Building Community To Beat Bots
Although these tips are helpful for spotting, outing, and reporting bots, dating sites don’t usually listen when you report bots. (After all, many bots are managed by the dating sites themselves, for the sites’ benefit; removing any bot would force the sites to admit that they’re helping to perpetuate the bot problem.)
So, what can you do to fight back against bots, and build a more honest dating community? Turn to DateAha! DateAha! lets you freely leave, view, and reply to comments on dating profiles, on any dating site. If you’ve spotted a bot, you can leave a comment on top of the bot’s profile to warn other daters. As a result, the people who set up the bot will be less able to get away with their schemes, and will hopefully shut their now-unsuccessful misleading profiles down. A solid community will shut down bots and make online dating safer, saner, and more honest…in other words, more human.
Use DateAha! for free comments and messaging on any dating site.