It Took One Day for Byte to Be As Spammy As the Rest of the Internet

Bot comments? Check. Fake accounts from “Taylor Swift” and “Donald Trump”? Check and check.

The Byte logo
Byte unexpectedly launched on Friday afternoon. Byte

Ever since Twitter shut down Vine, users who loved the app’s bizarre and sometimes transcendent six-second videos have clamored for its return. For more than two years, it’s seemed that a Vine successor was in the works from co-founder Dom Hofmann. Finally, last week, that app arrived. Byte unexpectedly launched on Friday afternoon for iOS and Android … and was almost immediately overrun by spam.

Like the original version of Vine, Byte allows users to film and upload six-second looping videos. The new app will build on its predecessor, though, by offering creators more opportunities to monetize their content and will soon have a pilot program for revenue sharing. It’s this promise of profit that likely attracted spammers to the platform.

Indeed, shortly after Byte went live, users found that their videos were being flooded by spammy comments requesting follows, which appeared to be coming from automated bots, with phrases like “follow for a follow” and “follow me for old vines.” One user, a prominent voice actor who’s found early success on Byte with animation videos, posted his frustrations to Twitter:

People are also snatching up coveted usernames, particularly those associated with prominent figures, like settlers planting stakes in fertile land. “Somebody also registered my Twitter handle on Byte with a generic headshot and no content,” former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos wrote. “If I was a spammer I would register every checkmark Twitter handle to sell or spam later.” A cursory review of Byte accounts revealed that users appear to be squatting on handles that prominent figures like Donald Trump, Jeff Bezos, Taylor Swift, and Tiger Woods have used on other platforms. The fact that you can easily change your account username will no doubt make it easier to seek out and occupy high-demand handles. Right now, Byte isn’t verifying prominent or notable users the way Twitter and Facebook do.

Fake accounts for Taylor Swift, Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump, and Tiger Woods on Byte.
Some of Byte’s *cough* celebrity *cough* users. Byte screenshots. Photo illustration by Slate.

So far, Byte seems to have captured some of that old Vine magic, hosting surreal micro-skits and endearing performance snippets from aspiring musicians. One YouTube user already made a compilation of entertaining Bytes:

Byte will still face the question of what will be different this time. In 2012, Hofmann helped to found Vine along with his partners Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll. Twitter soon purchased the platform for $30 million before it even officially launched. In the ensuing years, a bustling community of creators flourished on Vine, minting social media stars like Logan and Jake Paul and Zach King. By 2015, the app had 200 million monthly active users. Despite its initial success, Vine’s growth stagnated, and Twitter eventually decided to pull the plug in 2016.

Hofmann had already left Vine by 2013 and created the beta version of the first iteration of Byte two years later, featuring custom soundtracks and GIFs, but it didn’t last for long. (Yusupov and Kroll, who left Vine soon after Hofmann, went on to create the once-popular game-show app HQ Trivia.) In late 2017, Hofmann announced that he was building another Vine successor called V2, but then decided to postpone it indefinitely due to “financial and legal hurdles.” Four months later, the developer said that he’d be releasing a new app in spring 2019.

Now it’s here, and some cleanup is already in order. On Saturday, just a day after Byte’s launch, Hofmann acknowledged the presence of spam bots on the platform in a tweet. Then, on Sunday, he wrote a post on Byte’s community forum titled “Taking out the garbage,” in which he reported: “We’re aware of the issues with comment spam and more widely with certain types of comments. This is our top priority and we’re working very hard to address it. It should be noticeably better than it was 24 hours ago and should continue to improve over the next little while.” Developers are introducing blocking, limiting, filtering, and liking features for comments in order to improve their quality overall.

Byte is entering a crowded field of short video platforms. The 60-second video app TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance (no connection to Byte), has in many ways taken Vine’s place. TikTok has proven so popular (with 1 billion monthly active users) that it’s drawn scrutiny from big Silicon Valley tech firms and D.C. regulators. Snapchat and Instagram stories have also partially stepped in to occupy the space Vine left, and lesser-known imitators like Lasso and Firework have been trying to draw in users for a while now. Hofmann hopes that Byte’s monetization features and active courting of feedback from users will help it rise above the pack. That’s promising for the kinds of creators who want to make a living by rubbing food on their faces. For better or for worse, the next Logan Paul may already be tasering dead rats on Byte.