YouTube Content Stealing Spambots on Reddit

Reddit is a good place to share content, but also a good place to attempt to make some money on clicks from unsuspecting or indifferent users. Lately I’ve been seeing a pattern regarding videos stolen from other YouTube channels, reuploaded and monetized with ads. These videos are then mass posted on Reddit by bots masquerading as real users.

tl;dr: Spambots are posting links to stolen videos on Reddit, copying comments from others to masquerade as legitimate users.

Let’s take a look at some examples.

Here’s a thread on /r/nononono called simply “accident cars”. It’s posted by user coltron1. The YouTube account is called DaD oF eNtErTaInMeNtX, which already sounds very legit. If we take a look at their videos, they are all on very different topics and all seemingly posted over a couple of weeks. Let’s not even pretend, these are all copied from the original uploaders with no credit.

What a prolific content creator.

There’s a funny detail with the videos. All of their descriptions have a link to the video itself, i.e. the same page that you are currently watching. I don’t know what the point of it is.

oh shitt its a spammer

Let’s get back to the Reddit poster, coltron1. Looking at their post history, they are posting mostly videos, two to three per day, in seemingly random subreddits. /r/MMA sure must be interested in Jean-Claude Juncker’s latest moves regarding the EU. Most of the videos are downvoted to oblivion, but some get a few upvotes and views. There are a couple of very simple comments in broken English interspersed in the stream of videos.

So much quality content.

Taking a look at the channel URLs of the posted videos, we can see that there are a few repeating channels that all the videos are from. Surprise surprise, all of them are similar to DaD oF eNtErTaInMeNtX, small channels with a bunch of videos all uploaded in a short period of time, all stolen from other channels. Interestingly, only some of the channels put the link to the video in the video’s own description. Another popular description format is the following (video title, link to video, video title again):

EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK AT THE COMPLETE TRAILER FOR XXX RETURN OF XANDER CAGE!!!

https://youtu.be/video-id

EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK AT THE COMPLETE TRAILER FOR XXX RETURN OF XANDER CAGE!!!

An intriguing detail is that even though coltron1’s posts are all downvoted and only a few get a measly amount of upvotes, they still have, at the time of writing, 38,155 post karma. To see how that was possible, I took a look further into their history. What I found was that there is a noticeable difference in how the user acts starting on the 1st of July 2016. Before that date, the user posts lots of comments and only a few links here and there. Almost every comment is written in good English and the comments and the links have gotten a generally positive reception. But that day the user starts posting the stolen videos and only makes a few comments, all written like a non-native speaker that is only learning the language.

"ohhhh its so nice guys nice persons good movie creator" ~ coltron1

I don’t know the reasons for the sudden change, but I suspect old user accounts with some amounts of karma are very attractive for spammers. Maybe their account was stolen or maybe the original user was paid to give control of it. In any case, I doubt they are controlling it anymore.

Here’s another spammer, sohailali15. Same thing here, the user posts videos from video stealing channels. This one is more successful, racking up karma with its posts. It looks to be posting also direct links to gifs on imgur, that can’t be monetized but will rake in the karma. It also seems to be more accurate in posting to the correct subreddits. It could be that it’s using human help.

A regular user? Looks quite human.

Here’s the reason I think the user is at least partly automated: the user posts reasonable comments, yes, but it turns out all of these comments are either verbatim copies of popular comments posted in the same threads by other users, or contain just a copy of the thread’s original link. All the comments are posted in popular threads, where they are easily lost in the noise. All this makes for a sufficiently believable user profile that is not immediately noticed as a spammer.

Another similar technique I’ve seen employed is to copy comments directly from Imgur. Some human users copy top comments to get easy karma, but it works for bots too. Not many people bother reading the comments both on Reddit and Imgur, so copying a popular comment from the other is a good way to look like a real user with something witty to say.

Two people thinking of exactly the same sentence in the same thread! What are the chances?!

There is a spam problem on Reddit. I keep seeing things like these more and more. Granted, usually they are stealing already stolen videos whose origins nobody can say for certain, but they are inserting ads on them and gathering money from that. YouTube probably won’t care, as they take a cut form the ad revenue. Reddit should care, because this really detracts from the experience. I keep seeing the same videos posted over and over, with OP providing no commentary and no discussion. I keep seeing comments by bots that offer no value to the discussion.

I’m not saying I have a solution. I try to downvote them and link the original uploads for videos, but without more people caring about the matter, it’s a futile effort. That’s why I decided to write about this, so maybe more people will become aware of the issue. I was thinking of a kind of “web of trust” style reputation extension to Reddit, where users could rank others as trustworthy or untrustworthy based on the content they post. Then I realized I was thinking of the karma system. Oh well.