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The Bot Toolbox: An accidental case study on how to eliminate bots from your online survey

Published in the Journal for Social Thought
September 2023


In the midst of our online survey research, bots infiltrated our study. Within the span of a few hours, they arrived by the hundreds and would continue to thwart our best attempts at both preventing bot access to our survey and separating them from human respondents over the next 18 days. Although the bots provided a challenge, they also supplied an interesting learning opportunity. Bots are an ever-growing concern for researchers collecting data online, and understanding how to deal with these bots is increasingly vital as the world of online or web-based research continues to grow (Bybee et al., 2021). This article details our experience with survey bots, our attempts to prevent further attacks (bot-prevention), our data cleaning methodology (bot-elimination), and finally, what weas researchers may do differently in future studies.  Despite numerous methods to foil bots, each with varying costs and expertise necessary to implement, this paper only provides an overview of the techniques we actively used and how those methods worked in our unique case; we only briefly review other techniques. We conclude with a bot “toolbox,” providing a guide for future researchers to utilize in the case of a bot attack.

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