Bots have been filling Pierce class rosters in the hundreds and raising flags across the district.
Bots are believed to be signing up for classes and creating accounts for the “.edu” email domain. These emails can be used for student discounts, sold to spam mailers, or sold for their domain.
What exactly is a bot, you might ask.
According to Cloudflare.com, “a bot is a software application that is programmed to do certain tasks.” There are both good and bad bots. Some can be useful, like search engine bots and customer service bots. Whereas others are created and used to harm people by stealing their identity, sending spam and other malicious activity.
Vice President of Student Services Jason Cifra has been managing the problem since it was brought to his attention. He said that a normal amount of bot activity is expected, but it has gotten out of hand in the last few months.
“We’ve known about this situation for a while but not to the level in this last second eight weeks,” Cifra said. “Our second to last report, we had 400 potential bots.”
The issue is being mitigated, but most instances of bot activity have to be handled on a case-by-case basis, making it tedious work.
Cifra said that only some potential bots reported are a bot, and many are actual students. The trouble comes with discerning the two, and that work takes time.
“We contact each of those potential bots to say you’ve been identified as a potential bot,” Cifra said. “If you’re not, you’ll need to do a Zoom, check in with us, stop by the welcome center to make sure that we can verify the student.”
Distance Education Coordinator Wendy Bass knows the situation is unfortunate and believes in Pierce staff’s ability to control the issue.
“Faculty and administration have been working together,” Bass said. “Where they suspect bots, they’re giving names, and administration has been following up on it.”
Bass is particularly proud of Cifras’ work in tempering the issue so students don’t miss out on educational opportunities.
“Jason has been phenomenal,” Bass said. “I’ve never seen a response like this. I love working with him, he’s so responsive and student-facing, and he’s so frustrated as well.”
Interim President Aracely Ara Aguiar said that she thinks they won’t ever be able to eliminate the problem entirely.
“Just when you think you got things right, there are always going to be scam artists and people that are always trying to do things the wrong way,” Aguiar said.
Aguiar also said that it is really important tht students engage early on so that they don’t get dropped from classes.