With the highly dramatic and controversial upcoming election mere weeks away, arguments on social media are more rampant than ever. When it comes to instant sharing on who’s right and who’s dead wrong, where better to sound off than the mecca of internet opinion – Twitter, of course.
By now, we’ve probably all seen two people from high school duking it out in our newsfeed on which policy is better or who has more experience, but what about vocal folks who you don’t recognize? While we may think it’s just another politically passionate peer, many of these voices don’t have a face behind the screen. There’s a new form of antagonizing on the internet, and it’s known as the Twitter bot.
For those who aren’t already familiar, Twitter bots are essentially programs written to produce automated posts, or to follow other Twitter users. They can be used as spam or false accounts that encourage users to click promotional links, leading to viruses or malware.
In the height of the election, these bots have taken on a new duty in favor of the left leaning voters, while ruffling the feathers of Trump supporters everywhere.
The Minds Behind the Bots
Inspired by activist and bot-creator Nora Reed, Sarah Nyberg created her own Twitter bot through Cheap Bots Done Quick and JSON to grab the attention and aggravation of scrolling bigots looking to pick a fight.
Conspicuously named @arguetron, one might catch from the handle alone that this account possesses some leg-pulling behind its simple yet progressive tweets sent out every ten minutes on the nose.
Instead of being programmed with only a handful of tweets which would easily give away its bot status, @arguetron has a large set of varying programmed responses for those who choose to tweet at her, some of which have already lead to some incredibly lengthy “arguments.”
Sarah used her personal account to exhibit some of her favorite interactions Twitter users have had with the bot, including a ten hour long debate.
Sarah told Select All that her bot is programmed for a number of social issues including racism, feminism, and transgender rights. “It also baits conspiracy theorists because they spend an odd amount of time searching for someone to fight with,” noted Nyberg.
She also emphasized that her bot never engages in arguments, confronts or harasses anyone, it only responds to the comments tweeted at it.
Nyberg isn’t the only one getting in on the fun during this heated election season. Back in June, a Kentucky native that goes only by his first name, Forrest, used the handle affectionately named @assbot to target the Donald himself. Anytime Donald Trump tweeted, @assbot automatically responded by tweeting “delete your account.”
While Forrest’s account had a similar target audience, his method in responding to angry tweeters is slightly different. When tweeted at, @assbot is running on a Heroku platform programmed to use Markov Chains, which strings together unrelated blurbs taken from Forrest’s personal Twitter account, @nasboat.
Because @assbot serves up an instant automatic response, it is the first to be seen above all other tweets, which ideally sent a multitude of Twitter using Trump supporters into a massive argument against the computerized gibberish.
Further emphasizing that these bots are not only for entertainment purposes, @arguetron creator Sarah Nyberg told The Verge that the goal of this project is to “expose the hypocrisy of people who say that ‘feminists’ and ‘social justice warriors’ are hypersensitive. Even just mild statements of fact can have them absolutely freak out – and end up sending abuse, even – to a bot that responds calmly and responds over and over again that they’re wrong.”
As for Forrest, @assbot and bots with similar motives exemplify why one should “never underestimate the gullibility or lack of awareness of people online, especially Twitter.”