PORNBOTS

This Student Makes His Rent Creating Spammy Porn Bots

I tracked down the Indian dude flooding me with sketchy NSFW links — and learned all about the economics of hijacking Twitter’s top global trends with BJ vids

Ashok, a 20-year-old computer science student, lives and works in Dadar, one of Mumbai’s busiest, most densely populated districts. He is a man of many hustles. In addition to attending ACIT, a well-regarded technical college, he’s developed a live currency converter for Forex traders, built a Sudoku puzzle solver and devised an app for detecting heart disease. Oh, and every day, he sends porn clips to thousands of people on Twitter. 

I have personal experience with the last one. Over the past couple of months, Ashok’s Twitter bots — the ones with usernames that contain a name followed by a random generation of numbers — have sent me numerous fake links to hardcore videos. The videos themselves are legit, as they’re taken from actual porn clips. The links are paired with trending hashtags, which means that when I’m searching for a particular news-related subject — e.g., the ongoing confrontation between Iran and the U.S. — it only takes a few scrolls until I come across some deep-throating clip with a link to a suspiciously named website.

Porn bots have long been an issue on social media sites and Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram in particular. But when we think of them, we mostly associate them with random accounts that slide into our DMs with the promise of local MILFs who need sex now. In other cases, porn bot accounts might be linked to tube sites like Pornhub and Redtube. As the industry trade publication XBiz notes, shady marketing agencies linked to tube sites employ guys like Ashok to make thousands of bots to hijack Twitter’s top global trends and lure unsuspecting users to their sites. It’s not just about getting them to watch porn either; more importantly, it allows them to extract as much user data as possible — something Twitter itself has admitted it struggles to prevent.

Ashok won’t tell me the technical details of the algorithm he’s developed (and we agreed to use a pseudonym to protect his identity), but he explains that it “extracts the first 10 seconds of the top trending videos on xHamster and Redtube,” processes them out as clips and randomly sends them to hundreds of people using Twitter’s top trending tags. “Usually, you don’t get any responses,” he tells me. “People will block you, ignore you or report you.” But in November, when Twitter was flooded by thousands of porn accounts, causing international chaos for a few hours, he was able to get hundreds of people to click on his videos, sending them to the now-defunct affiliate marketing site NewTechnologyToday.tech. (Why would a site that apparently sold new and reused computers and phones be trying to lure in customers with porn? Because it’s effective.) 

There’s little by way of data when it comes to the number of porn bot accounts, as well as how much they generate in revenue — especially because the sources of them are designed to be untraceable. But a quick Google search shows that there are dozens of adult affiliate sites like CrakRevenue, WellHello, WhaleCash and Affilaxy that pay bot creators for each person who clicks on a link that leads to their site. “There is an unlimited supply of horny single men, and you can get a pretty nice conversion rate if you know how to tease them just enough for them to click your link,” Steve Smith, the owner of MakeMoneyAdultContent.com, told Vice in 2019. 

How much these affiliate sites pay per click varies and is largely based on the size of their network. So, for example, if an affiliate network promises a bot creator $5 per click, and there are 10 other websites associated with them, someone like Ashok could make hundreds of dollars in under an hour.

When I ask Ashok how much he made in November, he estimates it was around 60,000 rupees, or just under $850. He isn’t entirely sure who clicked on the links, but based on some IP address tracking he obtained, the majority of the successful clicks came from Russia, Pakistan, India, Kenya and Uganda. That said, he’s not sure if there’s any distinct pattern, other than the fact that most people are enticed by porn. “I know that in India, many people, even the people who [watch porn], are shocked when they see it!” he laughs.

Overall, though, November was an outlier. Really, he doesn’t recommend creating porn bots as a method of sustainable income. Still, he says building them is easier than ever — which is probably why we’re seeing so many more these days — and that it’s given him valuable insight into the workings of the social web and the psychology of internet users, something he believes will come in handy for another side hustle. For now, though, he’s at least certain of one thing: “There will always be people who click on porn, no matter what.”