Vine is back, baby! Well, sorta. Vine co-founder Dom Hofmann released Byte, his new six-second video platform, on iOS and Android on Friday night — sucks if you didn't scramble and now someone has snatched your desired handle — and, well, it definitely feels like 2014 again.
I've been having a jolly time posting short videos to my account (@raymond), but am also extremely frustrated by its most serious and noticeable flaw: it's overrun by bots. For a platform that's only three days old (officially, not counting the close beta invites that went out in 2019), the proliferation of bots is troubling.
You'd think a new platform by the makers of Vine and lessons learned from other bot-infested platforms like Instagram and Twitter in the four years since Twitter shut it down, would have stronger protections in place (at least at launch), but nope.
Byte's no different than any other social network. What a shame.
I missed the boat on Snapchat. And Vine. And Instagram (I joined day one, but wasn't savvy enough to capitalize on influencer culture and reap the lucrative rewards of sponcon). And YouTube. And TikTok. Basically, I like to imagine I could've become a very obnoxious — maybe even rich — walking brand deal, but I threw it all away to write about tech and have ethics (no regrets, but don't tell that to my bank account!).
For the first few hours, Byte felt like a second chance. "Don't miss the boat again," I told myself as I basked in the satisfaction of having secured @raymond. I don't care about making money (I have a great job here at Input and couldn't be happier) on Byte so much as I want the power and influence. (For what it's worth: Byte says it'll introduce a pilot program to pay creators, which was a major reason why so many Vine stars fled for YouTube.)
The digital currency of our time is social influence.
As Instagram and Twitter and Facebook have taught us, the digital currency of our time is social influence. Who respects you? How many people care about what you think or say? How much weight you hold in online conversations does have an impact on real life. Just look at how this viral tweet from Casey Neistat saved this struggling doughnut shop. That's the power of social media influence at work.
But by the time I started to really get into sharing my sixth or so Byte video, the bots started appearing and ruined everything.
Literally, as soon as I post any video, there's already a bot notification waiting to be swiped away. In one video about Nokia's 3310, an account called "vermont" wrote me this very loving comment: "Are you lost? Need guidance? Want someone to fuck your bitch? Follow @basedjesus."
First: whoooooaaaa. Second: holy shit!
Another user named "benis" also sent me a comment not even one second after posting the video: "For the best memes on Byte f0ll0w @slutz (she may follow back)."
The bots and spam never stop. Below, a few more tender comments:
Most of the bots are thirst traps begging for follows. You know, "follow for follow" and everyone wins by boosting their numbers up!
In addition to fake likes and comments, all these bot follows are attempts to manipulate the Byte algorithm to display spammy account content in the search/explore tab. It's an egregious abuse of a social platform all over again and tarnishes Byte's place as a new and modern platform that's supposed to be a better and safer place than its bot-infested hellholes.
For what it's worth, Hofmann is aware of the bot problem on Byte. On Sunday, he shared a community forum post addressing spam (emphasis mine):
We’re about 36 hours in and I hope you’re having more fun than not fun. I wanted to post an update and make it clear that we’re aware of the issues with comment spam and more widely with certain types of comments. This is our top priority and we’re working very hard to address it. It should be noticeably better than it was 24 hours ago and should continue to improve over the next little while.
In the medium term, we’ll be making more dramatic changes to comments including a) the ability to like comments, and b) the abilities to block/filter/limit commenting.
We are also ramping up on video moderation and you should see improvements there very soon.
Hofmann said purging the spam is Byte's top priority and he promises "we'll do right by it." I sure hope so because outside of the few real people who follow me, I think most of my engagement on Byte is fake. The likes, the followers, the comments — they're mostly all phony. I have no way to tell if the six-second videos I'm putting out are legitimately enjoyed because real people think they're funny or I'm a total idiot just desperately trying to become a Byte viral sensation.
All jokes aside, I want a genuine and fun social network to share and discover stuff on again. One that isn't overrun by bots or influencers trying to sell me protein powder. A social platform that isn't trying to nudge me to some e-commerce shop.
Maybe I'm being too wishful in thinking there's an escape from brands — there's no running from them and CVS was already on my ass! — but I want to believe that Hofmann and Byte are sincere in giving the world a more sacred social platform. Don't we all deserve a digital haven that isn't filled with garbage and fake news?
Purge the bots! From what I can tell, Byte's actually wiping them out. All of the bots in the above screenshots are no longer available accounts. Now keep going!