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Bots are invading a16z-backed crypto hit Farcaster — its open-source design may be a solution

Bots are invading a16z-backed crypto hit Farcaster — its open-source design may be a solution
Farcaster gives users the tools they need to stop bots and even create community-curated versions of the social media app. Credit: Andrés Tapia
  • Farcaster users are noticing increased levels of bots and spam after the social protocol opened to the masses last month.
  • The protocol's open-source design lets users deal with bots themselves.
  • Users are already experimenting with novel ways to exclude bots and boost organic engagement.

Just weeks after buzzy social media platform Farcaster opened to the masses, it’s already being swarmed with bots.

On January 29, the platform, which was previously invite-only, began letting users pay a one-time $5 fee to join.

“There has been a sharp increase in what seems to be a mix of bot activity and just low-quality engagement,” Miroyato, a pseudonymous early adopter of Farcaster who developed open-source software for the protocol, told DL News.

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has also commented on the increased levels of spam on the app.

Bots are one of social media’s most persistent problems. These automated programmes mimic human activity on social media to spread disinformation, farm engagement, and orchestrate complex scams and phishing campaigns for those who control them.

Other social media sites attempt to keep bots at bay by banning them when they pop up, locking themselves into an endless game of digital whack-a-mole.

Farcaster, on the other hand, gives its users the ability to tackle bots head on. It’s open source, meaning that all its code is publicly accessible and free for anyone to use.

This means that unlike X, where the company has complete control over the user’s experience, Farcaster users can build their own custom implementations of the app.

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“Different user interfaces and clients will try different approaches to content moderation, and purging your feed from bots, all while using the same backend,” Miroyato said.

How Farcaster works

Farcaster uses cryptography — the same technology that backs the $2 trillion crypto industry — to handle important actions such as account creation.

Farcaster itself is just a protocol. It is implemented through an app, similar to how the SMTP protocol powers email services like Gmail and Outlook. Anyone can build and release their own custom app that uses the underlying Farcaster protocol.

Currently, Warpcast, an app reminiscent of X and built by Farcaster’s founders, is the most popular way to interact with Farcaster.

What has put Farcaster on the map in recent weeks is Frames: a new feature that also integrates cryptography. Frames turn posts — known as “casts” on Farcaster — into interactive apps, allowing users to create polls, embedded games, token-gated chats, and even order girl scout cookies.

As Base creator Jesse Pollak told DL News, “Frames invisibly use onchain technology to strip away clunky user experience and make it possible for users to interact with apps without ever leaving their feed.”

Community-curated social media

Farcaster gives users the tools they need to stop bots and even create completely community-curated versions of the social media app.

“Imagine if users could configure which type of filters they want to use and which algorithm should curate their feed, and from which institution, company, DAO or government,” Luis Bezzenberger, a product manager at Project Shutter, which works on mitigating the negative effects of MEV, told DL News.

According to Bezzenberger, such implementations could happen either directly via the social graph — the relations and connections between users — or via a DAO or open source algorithm, which is accessible and modifiable by anyone. “Sort of like Wikipedia,” he said.

These lists and algorithms could place restrictions on which posts to include on users’ feeds. Criteria could include past Farcaster activity, proof-of-personhood initiatives like Worldcoin, or other verifiable onchain activity.

But the strategy is not without its downsides.

The filters placed on users could impact those who choose to remain anonymous if they are unwilling to use proof-of-personhood filters to prove they are not bots. New users, who have yet to register activity onchain or on Farcaster, may also get lumped in with bots when they shouldn’t.

Can Frames stop bots?

The technology behind Frames specifically may hold the key to quashing bots, according to Christian Montoya, product lead for MetaMask Snaps, an open-source system that allows users to expand the functionality of the popular crypto wallet to different blockchain protocols and custom account types.

He told DL News that when Farcaster users interact with Frames, that interaction sends something called a signed payload that includes a cryptographic hash to the Farcaster servers.

The server then uses this hash to validate that the request came from a user’s account. The result, he said, is the ability to filter out bots from interacting with Frames, similarly to how CAPTCHAs deter bot attacks and spam.

“This does not mean that the account is guaranteed to be human, but it enables developers to compose user-filtering solutions with other tools to arrive at that determination,” Montoya said.

Farcaster users are already experimenting with this use case. They’ve made Frames for NFT mints that filter users based on certain onchain criteria, such as if they hold a special NFT given out to the first 10,000 Farcaster users.

While a more complete version of such filters has yet to be built and implemented, Farcaster proponents are confident it’s coming.

“Over time, I think we will see many more applications with a wide variety of identifiers and social data,” Montoya said.

Tim Craig is DL News’ Edinburgh-based DeFi Correspondent. Reach out to him with tips at tim@dlnews.com.

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