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Duosuma® Duotrope's Submission Manager

Bots and Unwanted AI Submissions

A robot suspended cross-legged. (Photo by Aideal Hwa.)

Bots are a reality of the internet. Every website is affected by them on a daily basis. AI submissions are a relatively new phenomenon that's quickly affecting the entire world of publishing. This article aims to tell you how Duosuma is handling these issues and to provide advice on how to mitigate bots and AI from affecting your submissions (whether you use Duosuma or not).

Note: This is a burgeoning field. We will keep this article updated with new information and new techniques. Last update: 1 November 2023.

Defining Terms: Bot and AI

A bot is an automated script or process that navigates the internet and interacts with websites (ex: submitting a contact form or scraping the website's text).
For the purpose of this article, AI refers to machine learning services that can generate text or images based on a prompt.

What is Duotrope doing?

Duotrope has always striven to have robust security. We have several layers in place, from the basics (like SSL), to using a state-of-the-art security service (Cloudflare) as middleware, to developing our own industry-specific solutions in-house. That said, no solution is fool- or bot-proof, and all solutions that attempt to identify bots-vs-humans have false-positives. We try to provide a balance between security and a good human experience. A solution that prevents even one legitimate submission is no solution at all.

How many submissions are made by bots or using unwanted AI?

We have investigated several suspicious submissions on our submission manager platform, Duosuma, and we were not able to determine definitively that they were submitted by a bot rather than a human in any of those cases. Although the work submitted may have been generated by an AI, all evidence suggested that humans made the submissions.

People can submit AI-created material (and they may even lie about it), and people are also capable of writing material that sounds like it was fabricated by an AI. The hard truth is that it's nearly impossible to tell AI-created work apart from amateur writing. That issue can be compounded further when the submitter is not an expert speaker of the language being submitted, especially if they use an online translation tool.

What tools does Duosuma offer to mitigate bots and unwanted AI submissions?

Security Checks and CAPTCHA Challenges: By the time someone has created an account and started a submission on Duosuma, several security checks and human-vs-bot checks have already been passed. In addition to that, some submitters will have to answer a short, simple Q&A (CAPTCHA) to show that they are human. These challenges will be given to more suspicious requests more frequently, but even trusted users will be challenged occasionally.
We use a Q&A rather than an image-based CAPTCHA for several reasons. We find they are less of a hassle for humans to solve while being more challenging for bots to solve, and they meet accessibility standards.

Also, Duosuma offers all our submission manager accounts the following options:

  • Setting whether AI-Assisted Works are permitted
    This can be set in Account settings. If prohibited, submitters will have to affirm that they did not use AI/machine learning tools in the creation of the work. If they don't affirm this, they won't be able to submit.
  • Custom Questions
    You can set up Custom Questions that require specific answers. If the answer provided by the submitter isn't in the allowed list, they won't be able to proceed with their submission.
  • Implementing a Ban List (for submitters breaking your rules)
    See the guide to banning submitters.
  • Reporting Spam/Junk submissions
    Team members at Editor level or above can report any submission as Spam/Junk to Duotrope. This gives us permission to fully investigate the submission and take appropriate action, which may including banning the submitter completely from using Duotrope/Duosuma (use of a bot to submit content is against our Terms of Use).

What are the best ways of spotting AI/bot submissions?

In the cases when there's been suspicion that a bot or AI was involved in a submission, some or all of the following have been present:

  • The submitter's Bio seems "off" in some way: stiled, robotic, or not appropriate for the work being submitted.
  • Likewise, does the Cover Letter have the right tone for the submission?
  • Is the file formatted properly for the type of submission?
  • AI-created material tends to have the following characteristics:
    • Lacks personality
    • Is very repetitive
    • Has awkward flow
  • You can run a few snippets of the submitted text through a service like Copyleaks or Hive AI Detector (Chrome extension), but be aware that false-positives are extremely common with all AI detection tools.
  • If you look up the submitter's name online, do they exist? (It's not hard for a bot to create fake social media profiles, too, but they won't be well used. On the other hand, keep in mind that some real people, including the author of this article, don't have much of a social media presence.)

It's important to note that even if all those boxes are checked, it's not proof that the submission was made by a bot or using unwanted AI. All of the bullet points above can also be signs of inexperienced writers or people writing in a language they have not yet mastered.

How can we set up our submission calls to trick bots?

There are a few ways of doing this, but none is absolutely bot-proof. Many of them we've already implemented as part of the submission process on Duosuma, but it you want to take it up a notch (and especially if you also want to eliminate submitters who don't follow instructions) here are some other ideas:

In your Cover Letter Instructions, ask for the cover letter to include something special. It could be specific word or phrase or the answer to a question. If you're reviewing a submission and the Cover Letter doesn't include this, you can decline it outright. This will, of course, affect humans who don't follow instructions as well as bots. It's up to you to determine whether that's a good or bad thing. ;-)

We've also seen some publications request that certain words or phrases be included in the actual submission file. While this option might be effective at mitigating bots, it's a bit more work in the review process, since you have to take the time to open the file and search for the secret word or phrase. It's also quite a bit more hassle for the submitter, who may be used to re-using the same file.

The impacts of AI on our world are quickly evolving, and we will continue to do our best to prevent the negative consequences of this from affecting writers, artists, and publishers using Duotrope/Duosuma. If you have any concerns, ideas, or thoughts you'd like to share with us on this topic, feel free to contact us.

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