It’s 4:17 AM and ChistinaMiller21 wants to chat. Her Instagram account is private and she has just four posts and 15 followers. While her username implies she’s 21, her bio says she’s 24. Later, in a direct message, she’ll say she’s 22. Who is Chistina (no “r”) Miller? She’s a student from Leeds. Where in Leeds? “Hyde Park.” What does she study? “Designer.”
Whether eight, 80, 280, or 80,000 people follow you, it’s likely that one or two of them are women like Chistina. That is to say, they’re not really women at all. They’re porn bots; “22yo girls looking for some fun;” frequent users of the red-and-black “no one under 18” emoji.
Porn bots have plagued Instagram for years. We’ve all got so used to them flooding into our follower requests and liking our pictures that no one really questions who’s behind them and what they want. Yet, in recent months, things have become more obscure. Accounts have stopped going for the obvious “name-name-number” handle, and now slip into your DMs rather than commenting directly on your photos. If an account with zero followers, zero pictures and no link in their bio DMs you a flame emoji, what are they hoping for? And who’s foolish enough to give them it?
If you have an Instagram account, you also have a dirty little secret
I click on the link ChistinaMiller21 sends over and am invited to “FUCK ON THE VERY SAME EVENING.” Clicking the big blue box marked “Continue” redirects me to another site (that only works on mobile and not desktop) called TopGirlsHere. Do you agree to this request?”) I’m redirected again to WellHello, a run-of-the-mill “dating, hook up, and swingers” site that wants you to pay for “UNLIMITED ACCESS” to women.
It’s a tale as old as time and a song as old as rhyme, so surely no one in 2019 is falling for it and handing over their credit card details? Yet by following the trail further and doing a little digging, I find SmoochyCash-an affiliate marketing website that allows anyone to sign up and share WellHello links in exchange for money. Affiliate marketing is a business model that rewards people for bringing customers to a company or visitors to a website. Just as Instagram influencers can earn cash every time someone clicks their affiliate link to a lipstick, porn accounts can make money from getting you onto porn sites-whether or not you yourself spend any money.
“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,” says Steve Smith, owner of MakeMoneyAdultContent, a blog for adult affiliate in this way, but has encountered people who pose as women on Twitter, Snapchat, and even Quora to make money through affiliate porn links.
CrakRevenue is one of the most popular adult affiliate marketing sites, and Smith says you can earn up to $5 for getting a single person to enter their email address in a website (this is referred to as PPL-pay per lead). Affiliate marketers can also earn commission if someone actually signs up for a site by purchasing a subscription (PPS-pay per sign-up, or pay per sale). This is much more difficult, Smith says on his website, “but not impossible.”
Of course, this whole thing isn’t supposed to be automated-in its terms and conditions, SmoochyCash loudly MING.” But savvy money-makers use “black hat” techniques by making bots that spam affiliate links across sites like Instagram.