According to Twitter’s own figures, there are significantly more robots on the social media service than there are people in Australia: as many as 8.5% of the firm’s active users are actually algorithms, which tweet automatically without any human intervention.
Many of those 23m bots are doing little more than pumping out spam day-in, day-out; but it’s important not to be prejudiced against silicon-based life. Here are eight robot Twitter accounts that are at least as entertaining as your average human user.
The original and best. Created by Adam Parrish in 2007, the bot does one thing and one thing only: tweet a word from the English language every half hour, in alphabetical order. After seven years, Everyword completed its task in June 2014, and promptly started right back at A again.
Two Headlines (@TwoHeadlines)
Created by bot auteur Darius Kazemi, Two Headlines works by taking headlines from Google News, and swapping out the key noun with a different trending topic. The best tweets read like reports from a world “where there is no discernible difference between corporations, nations, sports teams, brands, and celebrities”, Kazemi says. “It is generating jokes about the future: a very specific future dictated by what a Google algorithm believes is important about humans and our affairs.”
Pentametron doesn’t write tweets itself; instead, the bot looks for rhyming pairs of tweets written in iambic pentameter, and retweets them both back to back. Reading it is like discovering a lost play from Shakespeare’s highly-strung-teen-on-the-internet phase, and when random chance results in pairs that not only rhyme but also make sense when read together, it’s beautiful.
oliva taters (@oliviataters)
Olivia Taters is an imaginary teenger who lives on the internet. Created by Rob Dubbin, she’s convincing enough that real teens actually converse with her – and because she replies to messages, those conversations can go on for a long time, without ever really making sense. Her tweets are built from real things being said on Twitter, which allows her to be strangely topical too: just this morning, she joined with much of her generation in mourning the death of Robin Williams.
Robot J McCarthy (@redscarebot)
Red Scare Bot deserves a place on this list for persistence alone. Since 2009, it has been butting in to any conversation where someone uses the words “socialist” or “communist”, to accuse them of … well, nothing, really. But even if the novelty fades, fast, and you’re eventually forced to block the damn thing just so that you can have conversations about politics in peace, it deserves some credit for having racked up 50,000 inane interventions so far.
Museum Bot (@museumbot)
Another Kazemi bot, Museum Bot was created as a riposte to accounts that tweet poorly sourced images to millions of followers, often with inaccurate captions and no credit given to the original photographer. Museum Bot hooks into the catalogue of New York’s Met Museum, and randomly picks items to tweet. One minute, that’s a terracotta pig; the next, a Japanese Edo woodcut.
Stealth Mountain (@stealthmountain)
Sadly defunct since January 2014, Stealth Mountain’s sole mission was to warn people that they had misspelled the phrase “sneak peek” – assuming, that is, that they didn’t actually mean to refer to a quiet hillock when they wrote “sneak peak”.
Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks)
Horse eBooks began as a spam account. Tweeting from a computer in Ukraine, the account would send nonsensical snippets taken from a vast corpus of books, occasionally interspersed with links to a shady page where one could buy the ebooks in question. It became a viral hit, with 200,000 people following its strange, broken poetry at its peak. But in 2013, a pair of advertising creatives revealed that they had been behind the account for at least two years. Since at least September 2011, they had been pretending to make serendipitous beauty. The world hasn’t been quite the same since.
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