The Bots Are Running The Show

16th May, 2023
a man holds a placard reading do we look like bots?

Bots are taking over the internet and it’s all very spooky, so don’t go anywhere my new link blog doesn’t tell you to. And no, I won’t tell you off if you’re using Windows to read this.

Also, there’s a new zine on the small web, and I’m determined to make as many cool new things as possible to please our bot overlords…


This little site has been going for a good seven or so months now. And anyone who has been watching its progress from the early days (there are dozens of you!) will probably know how flippant I can be with this thing.

The truth is, I made this site with zero vision - just a fascination with the indie web and some rose-tinted teenage memories of building web pages with HTML. Even the fact that I went with was partly born out of indecision.

I have no shame in saying I took a throw-and-see-what-sticks approach to everything here, from the site design to the writing. And continuing in that spirit, I’d like to try something different again.

Inspired by writers such as Cory Doctorow and Jason Kottke, going forward (for now), posts here will take on more of a “link blog” format. These links will vary from news pieces to blogs to my own writing, with a particular focus on the small web, indie creators, tech, and culture.

To be clear, my plan isn’t just to link a bunch of stuff and call it a day. On the contrary, I’m hoping this new format will give me more to talk about so that I might actually start posting here with some consistency.

In any case, I hope you enjoy the new format, and I’m always open to any feedback.

The Bots Are Running The Show

The dead internet theory was one of the many ridiculous conspiracy theories that spawned into existence during the late 2010s. The gist of the theory is that the internet we knew “died” sometime in 2017, to be replaced by an AI simulation of sorts, where humans represent a small minority.

Linked to this theory are even more “out there” claims about the web being a government front or a part of some Illuminati plan. And the whole thing was (is?) pretty popular amongst “red-pillers,” the easily led, the eternally paranoid, and certain listeners of the Joe Rogan podcast.

Nonetheless, of all the conspiracies to come out of that time, the dead internet theory remains the most understandable. And I think there are two reasons why.

Firstly, the dead internet theory “feels” a bit real. But not, I don’t think, because of anything done by AI. Rather, the drastic rise of the commercialized web, and the particular web design philosophies that came with it, have left the world wide web feeling sterile. How could it feel anything but fake when salespeople are hogging up the front pages?

The other reason is, like any good conspiracy theory, there’s a glimmer of truth behind the whole thing. And now it seems at least one part of the dead internet theory will soon come to pass. That’s because, according to a study on web traffic, humans are on the verge of becoming the minority citizens of the web:

The Independent - Nearly half of all internet traffic is now bots, study reveals

Right now, bots make up 47.4% of all online traffic. And this isn’t due to some sudden surge, but the result of a longstanding trend. That said, researchers are quite certain that the mainstream arrival of ChatGPT and Bard will result in a major increase in bot traffic later this year.

Yes, the bots may “own” the internet by the end of the year. But what does that really mean?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear bots, Russian troll farms, and Twitter accounts with too many numbers in their profile comes to mind. But, of course, a lot of bots are pretty harmless. You might even consider them “good”. They’re what makes search engines and digital assistants work. And while you might consider the internet a better place without them, at least they’re not malicious.

But the “bad” bots are growing in number too. What’s more, they’re getting smarter. According to the same report, over half of the bad bot traffic is now considered “advanced,” a massive increase from previous years. And by advanced, the researchers mean these bots can mimic human behavior. The result, in practical terms, has been a huge increase in account takeover attacks (ATAs) and API attacks. They’re also becoming an increasingly common component in warfare, as seen in Russian misinformation campaigns against Ukraine.

Bots are taking over: Automated threats are a growing risk for organisations

Bot attacks, fakes, and pseudo-lawyers’ advice: Russia trying to disrupt mobilization in Ukraine

For the average web surfer, the coming ‘botmaggedon’ just means good internet security practices are as important as ever. So put your passwords somewhere safe and updated, be careful about who you’re giving your data to, and keep a separate email address for any important services. The internet isn’t dead. It’s not even dying. But it is getting to be a bit of a no man’s land out there.

Your Sucky Stuff Is Probably Fine

Are Linux and FOSS users elitist? By and large, I think not. But then, as a Linux user, I would say that wouldn’t I?

What can be said for sure, is that wherever you go on the web, someone is going to tell you that you’re using the wrong stuff - The wrong distro, the wrong text editor, the wrong notetaking app or even the wrong computer.

Hell, I even do this a little myself sometimes.

For the most part, when I talk about a piece of software or hardware that I like, I do so because I, well, like the thing I’m talking about. And not strictly because I dislike or feel it is objectively superior to the alternatives.

When I do talk negatively about a piece of software/hardware, it’s typically because I think there are genuine reasons to voice concerns amongst users. Indeed, most of the time, I am a user of the product I’m criticising, be it overbearing smartphones or VPNs and their questionable marketing.

What I dislike and try to avoid, is elitism. Which, as Veronica Explains points out in the below video, does nothing but harm the FOSS and Linux communities.

Veronica Explains - Your hardware and software tools are probably fine (YouTube)

Having spent a great deal of my youth obsessed with punk rock, the tribalism of some Linux users in particular, and the ugliness it breeds, is something all too familiar to me. (You use Ubuntu, own an iPad and listen to Linkin Park? What a sell-out poser, man).

Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t place criticism where criticism is due (ads in the settings menu now? Really Microsoft?). But the “you should stop using this and use this instead” attitude typically gets no one anywhere. If it did, everyone would be an open-source using vegan already.

From the Smol Web

Digital zines are hella cool. Here’s one in the making that you should probably go contribute to right now:

What I’m Up To

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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