The rise of the Twitterbots

Updated – Aug. 25, 2015 – 10:58 pm

I’ve been fascinated by Twitter robots for a while now. I find that they can have so many interesting applications for news: they can engage audiences, inform in real-time, gather information, just to name a few. What makes a Twitterbot a bot? One definition I heard at a panel at NICAR is “a program that manipulates the Twitter API.”

Since I decided to make my own robot a few months ago, (a bot that tweets Jorge Luis Borges’ El Aleph), I’ve been in deep exploring the world of these sometimes quirky, algorithmically-generated accounts. Some are completely automated, while others also include interactions by humans.

Below is a list of some of the most notable Twitterbots out there. I’m sure I left out many so feel free to add more below in the comments.

@BechdelBot – You tweet the name of a movie to the bot and it’ll tell you if it passes the Bechdel Test. If not, it’ll offer you a suggestion to watch instead.

@Betelgeuse_3 – this robot replies with “It’s showtime!” to anyone who tweets “Beetle Juice” three times.

@cdarwin – tweets lines from Charles Darwin’s ship log “in real time.”

@congressedits – “tweets anonymous Wikipedia edits made from IP addresses in the US Congress.”

@DroptheIBot – created by two Fusion journalists, this bot corrects people who tweet “illegal immigrant.” (Update – it looks like Twitter suspended this account.)

@earthquakesSF – using data from the USGS, this robot live-tweets earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay area.

@Every3Minutes – based on the fact that between 1820 and 1860 a slave was sold on average every 3.6 minutes in the U. S., this bot tweets every three minutes reminding people of the brutality of slavery.

@factbot1 – created as an “experiment in manipulating the information space of social media,” Factbot generates facts, pairs them with an image and posts them on the Twitterverse.

@FindMyStation – from its bio “An experiment from NPR to help you find your local public radio station. Tweet us a ZIP, city/state, or station call letters.”

@findnickisverse – you can tweet at this account with the title of a song Nicki Minaj is featured on and it tweets back a YouTube link that jumps right to her verse.

@Horse_ebooks – (inactive and not a real bot) for years people thought this widely-followed account that mimicked a spambot was algorithmically-generated (aka a robot), when in fact it was a performance art project by two BuzzFeed employees. This revelation drew the ire of the Internet and generated many, many think pieces on Medium.

@ILCampaignCash – built by the Chicago Tribune, it tweets every time someone files a donation for more than $1,000 based on IL State Board of Elections data.

@kookyscrit – sends auto-replies to people who misspell the words “weird” and “definitely.”

@NailbiterBot – tweets an alert when an NCAA tournament game gets close.

@NYTAnon – tweets articles published on the NYT that quote anonymous sources.

@NYT4thDownBot – tweets “live analysis of every NFL fourth down decision. Some tweets are automated, some are not.”

@MechanicalPoe – (inactive) tweets stories by Edgar Allan Poe, one line per hour.

@mot_namdeirf – it tweets random snippets from Thomas L. Friedman’s New York Times columns.

@oliviataters – a teenage girl set loose on the Internet.

@ProPubSunset – automatically tweets a photo of the sunset during the summer using a camera and a Raspberry Pi.

@ReplayLastGoal – from its bio: “automatically tweets the video replay and animated GIF of the latest World Cup goal”.

@she_not_he – it corrects Twitter users who misgender Caitlyn Jenner.

@SimilarNews – An experiment from @NPR. Users tweet at the account a link and it replies with a similar story.

@slowdante – (inactive) tweets Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

@StealthMountain – it alerts Twitter users that they typed “sneak peak” when they actually meant “sneak peek.”

@YourInAmerica – (inactive) another BuzzFeed experiment. This bot corrects “people saying your in America and telling others to learn English.”

@YourRepsOnGuns – from its bio: “Retweets of representatives mentioning guns, firearms & related words.” (I’ll post a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own robot later (aka when I have more time.) In the meantime, you can check my code on GitHub.)

Related links:

Olivia Taters, Robot Teenager – On the Media.

That time 2 bots were talking, and Bank of America butted in – The Atlantic

List of Twitter bots created by @muffinista.

Wikipedia’s Twitterbot entry 

@Horse_Ebooks is the most successful piece of cyber fiction, ever – The Atlantic

One-shining-moment alert: Two news developers built a Twitter bot to tell you when the game is getting good – Nieman Lab

Missed a World Cup gooooooooooaaaaalll? A new Twitter bot will catch you up – Nieman Lab

@similarNews / @Findmystation – NPR Social Sandbox

How to break news while you sleep – Source

This Twitter bot is a constant reminder of the brutality of slavery – Fusion

Scraping Illinois campaign finance data – for fun, if not profit –

How to write a robot with Python and tweepy –

Making a Twitter bot in Python (tutorial) – Emerging tech in libraries


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