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Politics has changed a lot during the digital age, Barack Obama’s social media machine propelled a first-term senator into the Oval Office. Discovering your neighbor donated $500 to Trump or Clinton is as easy as searching their name on OpenSecrets.org and, of course, Ted Cruz like a porn tweet. But, on the fringes, there are the Twitter bots.
When we think of bots, most of us probably think of drab buildings in the shadow of the Kremlin where teams of Russian saboteurs supposedly wreak havoc on the American political system. But, you’ll be glad to know that bots are like germs—there are helpful ones too. Some of which monitor informational tidbits at such a massive scale that it couldn’t be replicated by a team of full-time reporters.
Here are eight bots that all political junkies should be following on Twitter.
Trump Hop is a bot monitoring past tweets from President Trump, showing you what the 45th commander-in-chief tweeted on this day in history. Trump has been on Twitter since March of 2009 and has cranked out over 36,000 tweets. Long before he entered the White House, he was making some head-scratching remarks on the micro-blogging platform. In 2012, he was tweeting about Kristen Stewart and with @TrumpHop, you will be reminded on January 28 of every year that on that day in 2015, then-citizen Trump retweeted: “When will People magazine finally realize that THE sexiest man alive is Donald Trump!”
Congress Edits tweets anonymous Wikipedia edits made from IP addresses in the U.S. Congress. This bot has been written about extensively, as a few staffers in the hallowed halls on the Hill have figured out that it exists and have been trolling it.
In October, CNN ran an article highlighting the bot after somebody edited Boba Fett’s Wikipedia page, writing “he’s not as cool as everyone thinks he is.” In 2015, The Daily Dot put together a list of our top 10 most ridiculous edits from a Congressional IP address.
While the bot mostly displays a few bored congressional staffers screwing around with Wikipedia, it has proved useful in the past. On one occasion, it caught a congressional IP address changing the language of the Wikipedia entry for the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture. Another time, it caught somebody on the Hill messing around with the entry for “southern strategy”—a Republican political strategy aimed at appealing to Southern voters by essentially race-baiting.
The president isn’t the only member of the Trump family active on Twitter—his son Don Jr. is known to stir up controversy on the site and Trump Alert monitors the accounts of Trump and his family. Any time a Trump likes a tweet or follows or unfollows anybody, the bot tweets. It’s a great way to figure out what the first family is doing when they check Twitter.
EricTrump appears to be following @HeatherChilders. (This bot cannot tell if it was a new follow or the result of the account being reactivated.)— Trump Alert (@TrumpsAlert) January 17, 2018
The bot also monitors Kellyanne Conway.
And if you’re looking for a bot that mirrors Trump’s feed to show you what he sees when he logs onto Twitter, follow @Trumps_feed, which was built by the Washington Post’s Philip Bump.
Every Trump Donor is a bot that randomly tweets out information about people who made donations to President Trump’s campaign. It tells you their name, when they donated, how much they donated, where they work, and where they live.
I'm Jose Fanjul. On 6/12/17 I gave $2700 to @realDonaldTrump. I live in West Palm Beach, FL. I work as an Executive VP at Florida Crystals Corporation.— Every Trump Donor (@EveryTrumpDonor) January 17, 2018
The bot uses information from Federal Election Committee, so it’s as accurate as possible.
Trump or not Bot was put together by The Atlantic’s Andrew McGill. It uses an algorithm to try to figure out whether a tweet came from the president. It might seem like a weird detail, but remember the time the White House claimed that one of Trump’s lawyers wrote a controversial tweet about Michael Flynn?
This tweet was sent via Twitter for iPhone. I compute a 38% chance it was written by Trump himself. https://t.co/Mix1WEFonK— Trump or Not (@TrumpOrNotBot) December 2, 2017
Here’s how the bot’s mastermind explained his creation in an article in The Atlantic:
“It’s a Twitter bot that uses machine learning and natural language processing to estimate the likelihood Trump wrote a tweet himself. By comparing new tweets to the president’s massive Twitter record, the bot is able to tell with reasonable certainty whether Trump is behind the keyboard.”
United States v. is a bot that tracks lawsuits filed by the United States government. But even better, the bot posts the links to where the cases are filed—which is tremendously helpful if you’re a justice reporter looking to beat your competition to a story.
The United States has filed a lawsuit against An Israel Military Industries (IMI), Model Desert Eagle, .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, bearing serial number 31312988https://t.co/7rYX7KzRrn pic.twitter.com/XgsQ13nGRM— United States v. (@UnitedStatesV) January 12, 2018
It doesn’t have many followers and is a little secret that can be a treasure trove of information. As you might imagine, some of these are big cases with overarching complications. But most of them are also local, like the case last week out of Chicago where the ATF worked with the Justice to put together an illegal firearms charge.
Big Cases is a must-follow for anybody who loves the gritty details of the legal system. Currently, the bot monitors about 75 big cases that are underway in the United States’ judicial system. That includes everything from filings against Uber to the Mueller investigation. On Tuesday evening, the bot tweeted out a development in the Fusion GPS case that grabbed headlines.
A lot of it is in legal terms, but the documents are easy to make out with a bit of caffeine in your system. Also worth noting, the bot is a product of USA Today’s top-notch investigative reporter, Brad Heath.
Probabot is a bot that, well, monitors bots. It was built by Quartz and looks at Twitter profiles that are tweeting about political topics. The bot then runs the account’s tweets through a “botometer” that gives the profiles a score based on how likely they are to be a bot.
It’s pretty useful if you’re looking for the behavior of political bots. But if you’re trying to get a closer look at the behavior of Russian bots, we’d suggest heading over to Securing Democracy, where they track the activity of Russia-linked Twitter networks.
Alex Thomas is a journalist based in Washington, D.C.