View Botting: How Fake Engagement Affects Marketers

January 18th, 2024

Creating video content and streaming online are among the most lucrative ways to make money online. With the rise of Twitch and livestreaming on TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, live streaming now accounts for more than a quarter of the most consumed online video content.

But this growth has made the industry vulnerable to a type of fraud known as view botting. In April 2021, Twitch identified more than 7.5 million accounts that used view botting to ramp up their visibility on the platform.

View botting is often associated with Twitch, as this is one of the most profitable avenues for fraud. But view botting can happen on any video platform: wherever you see a view counter, view botting can occur.

So what is view botting, and why is it a problem for marketers? In this article, we’ll uncover how view botting works, how it affects advertisers, and how to spot view botting in potential affiliates and creators.

What is View Botting?

View botting is a type of invalid traffic (IVT), in which video content creators and streamers use automated programs (bots) to artificially boost their video views or stream count, giving them more exposure to real viewers. Here’s how Twitch defines view botting:

“View botting is the practice of artificially inflating a live view count, using illegitimate scripts or tools to make the channel appear to have more concurrent viewers than it actually does.”

Some view bots will just open the video or stream, but others are more sophisticated. As well as increasing view count, they can send comments and create fake accounts to appear more genuine.

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Why Do Creators Use View Bots?

Falsely boosting your view count increases the chances of your stream or content getting more exposure among genuine viewers. For example, Twitch lets viewers sort categories and channels by number of viewers, so the more viewers you have, the more likely you are to appear at the top of the page:

view botting

Despite being against Twitch’s terms of service, view botting can grow a stream’s viewership exponentially. More views mean more ad and sponsorship revenue for creators.

View botting works in a similar way on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and other social video platforms. These platforms reward high-performing content with greater exposure, so by increasing your view count — even with bots — there’s a much higher chance of attracting real viewers. When these convert to followers or subscribers, streamers have more leverage with advertisers and affiliate marketers.

But there are real risks to view botting for creators. Risks include:

  • Video removal — Content can be removed if it’s found to be in breach of the platform’s terms of service.
  • Loss of revenue — The platform may remove or limit the creator’s advertising rights, making it harder to monetise their content.
  • Platform ban — The platform may ban the creator altogether if they’re found to artificially inflate their own metrics.
  • Legal action — Twitch, in particular, has successfully sued view bot creators in the past.
  • Compromised trust — Live streaming success depends on having a trusting audience, which can quickly be compromised if people notice view botting.

How Does View Botting Work? 

There are two ways to set up view botting: view botting scripts and view botting services. The table below compares how view botting works in each case.

View Botting ScriptsView Botting Services
PurposeBoost view countBoost view count
SetupCreators write their own script(s). This may become easier with the advent of automated services like ChatGPT.Creators rent scripts written and licensed by third party developers. Creators can use built-in controls to set bot viewer regions, bot joining intervals, etc.
ScalabilityCreators can host and run as many scripts as they want on cloud-based services.Pay more or less to scale your bot count as needed.
CostFree.Free trials, then subscription-based (from around $10 per month).
AvailabilityCreators must have some coding knowledge to create their own scripts.Available to any creator willing to pay.
view botting

Both types of view bots are generally used for unethical purposes. YouTuber and streamer Matt Judge explains why view botting is bad practice:

“View botting takes exposure from others who would otherwise get it. It is unethical and against the terms of service. So many replies are just, ‘Lol, he is just getting that bag.’ This is often the same response I get speaking about the market impact of people who spam out reaction videos on YouTube.”

But view botting can actually be weaponised to get competitors penalised by streaming platforms. This is known as malicious view botting, and it happens when someone sends bots to someone else’s stream to compromise viewer trust and possibly even get them banned. This happens so often that Twitch has even created a help page for targeted creators.

Malicious view botting makes it hard for platforms to curb this problem. Matt explains:

“Regardless of how obvious it seems that a person is view botting themselves, if Twitch starts banning anyone with view bots, any malicious person could just get anyone else banned.”

Types of View Bots

Marketers should be aware of the four main types of view bots.

1. Live Stream Bots

These bots open live streams (usually in a headless browser) to inflate viewer figures. A high view count with low engagement may indicate a simple live stream view bot.

2. Chat Bots

Chat bots increase view count and contribute to chats to create the illusion of being a genuine user. But messages generated by chat bots are usually vague and unengaging, so they may still be fairly obvious to human users.

3. Engagement Groups

Engagement groups are human streaming farms in which creators club together and watch each other’s content to boost their metrics. They may also agree to comment, follow, subscribe, or otherwise engage with the channel.

Engagement groups aren’t technically bots, but the traffic and results generated are still invalid.

4. Follow Bots

Follow botting is a similar problem to view botting, except that these bots are designed to follow channels to boost subscriber count, rather than just boosting views on individual videos.

4 Telltale Signs of View Botting Use

Marketers considering working with or sponsoring video creators need to be able to spot signs of view botting. This will help you invest in the right marketing partners to get more from your budget. Here are five telltale signs of view botting use.

1. High view count, low engagement

A boost in viewer numbers normally results in an uplift of engagement, such as chat activity and stream/video likes. If a video or stream has a lot of views but not much else, it’s possible the creator is inflating their viewing figures with view bots.

2. Rapid rises in viewer count

Videos that gain thousands of streams or views within a short period of time (say, 30 minutes or less) could indicate view botting. In the example below, a Twitch user jumps from 491 viewers to more than 11,000 within just 15 minutes. This is unlikely to be genuine growth from real users (especially for a relatively small channel).

view botting
view botting

Use SullyGnome to see Twitch stats and analytics for other users.

3. High view count, low subscriber numbers

The more subscribers a channel has, the more views they’re likely to get. The odd video might go viral, but if an account has high viewing figures across all their content with a relatively low subscriber count, this may suggest they’re inflating their views.

There’s no consensus on what your viewer-to-subscriber ratio should be, but anything lower than 8% (that’s 80 views for every 1,000 subscribers) could be a red flag.

4. Bland, repetitive comments

Even though some bots are programmed to generate comments, these tend to be pretty mundane and don’t contribute much to the chat.

view botting

Use this checklist to decide if a creator is artificially inflating their view count. If the answer is yes to most of these questions, it’s possible that view bots are in use. 

  • uncheckedDo they have a lot of viewers with low chat activity?
  • uncheckedDo they have a lot of viewers with a low number of likes?
  • uncheckedIs chat activity irrelevant to the video?
  • uncheckedIs their viewer to subscriber ratio less than 8%?
  • uncheckedHave they gained thousands of viewers in <30 minutes (relative to their subscriber count)?
  • uncheckedDoes the content underdeliver on its promise?

How View Bots Affect Marketers 

Video is one of the fastest-growing advertising channels in the world. According to a Hubspot report, 92% of marketers reported a good return on investment from video ads and video content in 2023 — an all-time high. And with TikTok Search Ads and YouTube Shorts Ads both being released recently, platforms are doing all they can to encourage advertisers to spend more on video.

If you’re advertising on video platforms or working with video content creators to promote your products, it’s important to understand the impact of view botting. This type of fraud causes three major problems for advertisers:

  1. Wasted ad spend — Ads can still be shown to bots, meaning you’ll pay for views from invalid users. This can quickly drain your ad spend with zero chance of conversions, especially on platforms where view botting is a big problem.
  1. Misleading metrics — Streamers and video creators use view bots to inflate their own metrics, so they can tell potential affiliate partners they have more exposure than they really do. You’ll need to do your own research to find out if they’re really getting the numbers they claim to have.
  1. Incorrect analytics — View bots can skew your advertising KPIs and other metrics, making it harder to rely on your own data. This can impact your ability to make good investment decisions for your marketing budget and ad spend.

These problems can occur on any video platform, from Twitch to TikTok to YouTube. So is there any way to stop view botting affecting your marketing efforts?

Can You Block Viewbotting?

Unfortunately, as a marketer there’s not much you can do to stop view botting. It’s up to streaming and video platforms to tackle this problem, and this can be difficult.

For one thing, banning accounts could lead to increased weaponisation of malicious view bots. For another, setting view count as a key filter for discoverability actually rewards view botting. (On Twitch, view count is one of just two filters available for sorting categories).

Twitch, Google, and Meta all have active policies against view botting. All three claim to suspend accounts for this practice, though they haven’t published exact figures for the number of videos or users banned due to view botting. 

“Fake engagement and artificial inflation of channel statistics are violations of our policies. Participating in, organizing, and/or running these services will lead to an enforcement issued on your account, including and up to indefinite suspension.”

Twitch’s view botting policy

“YouTube doesn’t allow anything that artificially increases the number of views, likes, comments, or other metrics either by using automatic systems or serving up videos to unsuspecting viewers. Content and channels that don’t follow this policy may be terminated and removed from YouTube.”

Google’s fake engagement policy

“Recently, we’ve seen accounts use third-party apps to artificially grow their audience. Starting today, we will begin removing inauthentic likes, follows and comments from accounts that use third-party apps to boost their popularity. We’ve built machine learning tools to help identify accounts that use these services and remove the inauthentic activity.”

Meta’s policy on inauthentic activity

In 2022, Twitch banned more than 15m users and issued timeouts to almost 6m users in total. According to Google data for April to June 2023, YouTube removed 89,128 videos for ‘other’ reasons, including view botting. 

Unfortunately, while these platforms appear to be taking a stand against view bots, invalid traffic on social media remains a pretty big problem. Lunio’s 2024 Wasted Ad Spend Report found rates of IVT ranging from 3.93% to 24.55% on video platforms. So platform bot-blocking measures aren’t as effective as they need to be to give marketers maximum value.

view botting

Fake Views, Fake Clicks, Fake Traffic

Bots aren’t just used to generate fake views. They can also generate fake ad clicks through to your website, skewing your site analytics and generating fake leads. 

While tackling view bots is largely the responsibility of video platforms like YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok, marketers can prevent other types of bots clicking ads across all platforms with Lunio.

With Lunio, you can:

  • Capture ad traffic data to generate exclusion audiences across your ad platforms, so your ads are only seen by your target audience.
  • Block invalid traffic to get the most value from your ad budget and stop fake interactions skewing your analytics.
  • Analyse post-click behaviour of your site visitors to continually improve your audience targeting.

Lunio’s 14-day free trial includes a full traffic audit, which shows you exactly how much invalid traffic is affecting your PPC success (and how much you could save by eliminating it). There’s no obligation to buy when the trial period ends; getting a clear picture of your traffic health can help you decide on the best way to fix invalid traffic on your site.

Advertise to Active Buyers, Not Bots

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