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Behind the spammer’s mask, a human

Twitter users find inspiration in the accidental poetry of bots.


Lauren Rae Orsini


Posted on Nov 1, 2011   Updated on Jun 3, 2021, 1:46 am CDT

First, there was @horse_ebooks. A Twitter spambot designed to sell E-books, its computer-generated tweets were so absurd that rather than report it to the authorities, users followed it for laughs.

Now, @horse_ebooks imitators are popping up all over Twitter. You’ll recognize them by the “ebooks” suffix on their names and their nonsensical fragmented tweets.

Here’s the real laugh—many of the accounts appearing to spew machine-generated Dada are human.

The Daily Dot tracked one down and interviewed the fleshy bot to understand the attraction of imitating an algorithm.

It’s the little things that give them away, like the empathy test in Blade Runner. Human behavior like favoriting or retweeting other tweets, responses to other users (no matter how random), a joke that seems a little too funny to be real. It’s the difference between @GuitarEbooks, a bot, and @persona_ebooks, a human. But it takes practice to spot what’s what.

Since the dawn of the Internet, people have known the benefits of assuming a pseudonym. But according to the anonymous source behind @cat_ebooks, impersonating a bot is even more freeing.

“It gives me an outlet to post insane stuff about cats online with no repercussions,” the source told the Daily Dot in an email.

@cat_ebooks was extremely cautious about his or her identity, and with good reason. When this user exhibits human behavior, followers get angry.

Most followers, by and large, realize @cat_ebooks is really a person. But the running gag depends on keeping the account ambiguous.

“Most of the humor stems from it being anonymous,” the source said.

The source told us that he began the account since he enjoyed @horse_ebooks so much. His first tweets were cut-and-pasted snippets from actual ebooks. But after that, the source began finding his own pace.

“I found that the funnier tweets were the ones that I came up with myself,” he said. “Eventually I had developed the persona of a deranged, egotistical cat bent on the enslavement of the human race by selling you terrible ebooks and products: basically your typical feline.”

While @cat_ebooks keeps it spammy with references to small businesses and product shilling, increasingly more of his tweets take inspiration from the source’s six pet cats. The account is growing less botlike, but also more funny.

“I do have six cats, so some of the things that they do creep into the tweets. For instance, my cat ate the last paper towel roll, which I modified to this tweet,” he said.

These new tweets may mean fewer are fooled, and true bot connoisseurs are offended, but @cat_ebooks hasn’t seen a drop in followers.

Perhaps people prefer to follow an account with a soul behind it.

“A couple of people have gotten mad that I’m not a bot. I don’t see the point of that,” he said. “Most of the time people are just amazed that I retweet or even respond to them.”

Photo by allfr3d

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*First Published: Nov 1, 2011, 11:08 am CDT