‘It doesn’t make it any less painful to know that it’s AI’
Dave* was showing his girlfriend Daphne a meme on his phone when something caught her eye. “As he was scrolling through his Instagram DMs, I caught a glimpse of something that was alarming,” she tells Dazed. “I could see there were messages between him and an ‘Instagram user’ with no profile picture, which usually means the account has been deleted, blocked, or reported as spam. The preview of the message said, ‘hey ;) here’s the link’.”
When Daphne, 24, questioned Dave, he brushed it off and claimed it was “a football thing”. “But I’m not dumb,” Daphne says. “So I clicked on it.” Dave had messaged the account first, saying “hey, can I see”. The account had replied by saying “hey ;) here’s my link, don’t share, I don’t want it to get leaked, it has pics and vids of me playing with myself.”
Clearly, Dave was cheating on Daphne. But he wasn’t messaging a human woman – he was talking to a bot.
‘Porn bots’ or ‘sex bots’ are fake, automated accounts, usually found on Instagram, which use sexual photos of women as their display photos and often share links to fake porn sites to lure users into scams or inadvertently install malware onto their device. Most people know instinctively that these accounts are dodgy, but it turns out that some straight men actually thought they were being personally sought out by these impossibly attractive, horny women. As Daphne says: “in what world do you think user @svitlanaxxxxx696969 with two posts and 0 followers wants to randomly show you her exclusive content? Like come on. Be smarter.”
Daphne isn’t alone. Casandra, 26, tells Dazed that she also caught her boyfriend sexting a bot two years ago after getting a bad “gut feeling” that something was up. “I do not believe couples should snoop through each other’s texts, but I decided to have a quick peek and I am so glad I found out,” she says. “I probably read through the messages about three times, just trying to comprehend what I had seen.”
Casandra explains that a bot had sparked up a conversation with her boyfriend, with a generic opening message along the lines of “we matched on Tinder last time I was in your town. Want to meet up?” Casandra says it was “incredibly obvious the text messages were fake [...] every letter in the message had an accent on it”, but her boyfriend was more credulous. “He responded by saying ‘you have the wrong number’ but the bot replied ‘that’s OK, I can still meet up with you!’”
@daphodilhoe Replying to @beauty.by.allinicole i guess lmk if you want story time about my ex faking brain cancer or trying to commit mass murd #cheater #gethimback #nyc #sassymanapocalypse #bf #romanempire ♬ Chill Vibes - Tollan Kim
“Things quickly got sexual,” Casandra explains. “My boyfriend was trying to add the bot on Snapchat, while also trying to discuss a place in town to meet up. The bot kept replying with things like, ‘I can’t use Snapchat because of my battery life’.” It then sent her boyfriend nude images of a woman over text, with a dodgy-looking link attached to one of the photos. It was only then that it finally dawned on her boyfriend that he had been sexting a bot.
The same thing happened to 21-year-old Leslie in April this year. She’d woken up in the middle of the night and briefly checked her phone only to see a flurry of texts from her boyfriend. “They were along the lines of ‘I fucked up’ and ‘I’m so sorry’,” she recalls. “I called him and he was sobbing on the other end of the line. I calmed him down after a little bit, my anxiety running high, and that’s when he explained that he cheated on me. On Snapchat. With an AI bot.”
“Apparently he was on Reddit and found a girl – a bot – post ‘her’ Snapchat for sexting,” she recalls, explaining that her boyfriend subsequently had a sexual conversation with the bot where they exchanged nudes. Afterwards, the bot demanded money from Leslie’s boyfriend and threatened to leak his pictures if he didn’t comply. When he replied, the bot sent back an automated-sounding message, and the penny finally dropped.
“Take it from somebody with firsthand experience – it doesn’t make it any less painful to know that it’s AI” – Leslie
Being cheated on is painful and confusing, but knowing that your boyfriend cheated on you with a bot adds another layer of complexity to the situation. “I asked my friends their opinions,” Casandra recalls, explaining that their reactions were varied. “Some said ‘think of it like porn’, but most pointed out that he thought she was real and tried to meet up with her.”
When Casandra confronted her boyfriend, his reaction affirmed her decision to end the relationship. “He downplayed the interaction saying ‘it wasn’t a big deal because she wasn’t real’,” she says. “But the issue wasn’t the outcome, it was his intention from the beginning.” Daphne agrees. “It’s all about intent,” she says. “His intent was to talk to another girl online in a promiscuous way, which is cheating in my books.”
It’s also impossible to downplay or ignore the emotional toll of having your partner betray your trust. Sure, it’s undeniably different to have your partner cheat on you with a machine, as opposed to a flesh-and-blood human, but it’s still similarly soul-crushing. “It made me feel like absolute shit,” Leslie says. “It made the last couple of years of my life with him feel like a joke [...] Take it from somebody with firsthand experience — it doesn’t make it any less painful to know that it’s AI.”
Is the rise of bot-powered scams a cause for real concern? Do I have sympathy for people who fall for these scams? Yes. But do I have as much sympathy when the ‘victims’ were attempting to cheat on their partners and shouldn’t have replied in the first place? Not really. That’s just karma. “Honestly, AI can take this job off of women’s hands,” Daphne says. “Men are so annoying to deal with anyway.”
*Name has been changed