The Trouble with Bots

The Trouble with Bots
Dealing with Bots in Online Survey Research

Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota

Lynda Lahti Anderson, PhD, and Sandra Pettingell, PhD

Note: This is the accessible version of a poster session presented at the AAIDD Annual Meeting, June 10-12, 2024, in Louisville, Kentucky.


Online survey research is a convenient way to reach study participants. However, the increase in bots and Internet bad actors can quickly contaminate your data making it useless. This poster summarizes the efforts made to prevent and detect bot survey responses in a national survey developed for caregivers. The survey was distributed via national partners, social media, and professional networks.

Survey Security

  1. Qualtrics survey security tools were used, including: screening for duplicate responses, CAPTCHA, and bot detection tools.
  2. Three inclusion questions were used. Participants had to respond positively to one and negatively to one to be included.
  3. Eyes on data checks for unusual response patterns and illogical responses to open-ended questions.



Number of Responses

Total responses


Failed inclusion criteria


Didn't complete survey



Screened in survey participants






Ballot stuffing




Final study sample


One-third of survey responses that passed screening questions were likely bots or bad actors.

Sanky graphic showing the information in the results table

Six Ways to Foil Bots

  1. Understand and use the tools in your survey software. (Beware — soft bot detection software isn’t perfect.)
  2. If you have a defined population, send unique email links.
  3. Use honeypot and trap questions.
  4. Use more than one inclusion question.
  5. If you offer payments, include a link to a separate survey to complete contact information for payment.
  6. Eyes on data checks – the same response choice, illogical responses to open-ended questions, etc.

Lynda Lahti Anderson, PhD

Sandra Pettingell, PhD

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