A Sample-est Critique of My Own Twitterbot

In my earlier post, I began to reflect on the ethical, political, and theoretical limitations of the cloud text project I designed. By way of summary, I offer the following: my twitterbot retweets slightly altered tweets from the #NotNormal stream, so as to amplify a broad range of political messages associated with Anti-Trump sentiment and resistance. In my initial post, I expressed concerns about the ways in which my bot promulgated and perpetuated unvetted news links, thereby contributing to a larger problematic grounded in uncritical reading and reflection.

Sample’s criteria for bots of conviction provides an additional framework for critique; specifically, he offers the following framework by which bots can function politically and effectively:

  • Topical.  According to this criteria, bot should not be about lost love or existential anguish; they should focus on the morning news — and the daily horrors that fail to make it into the news. My bot, though  initially topical (I constructed its database from tweets collected over the course of two days), but since then the news cycle has moved on. Ideally, I would have a mechanism for continually scraping the twitter feeds to update my supporting database.
  • Data-based. Here Sample articulates the importance of actual data and research. Mine transmits memes and other forms of predigested research, but does not reach back to the supporting data in responsible ways.
  • Cumulative. In Sample’s words, “it is the nature of bots to do the same thing over and over again, with only slight variation. Repetition with a difference.” The aggregation of these repetitions conveys rhetorical and political weight. In this sense, my twitterbot functions well – it highlights the repetitive nature of reductive political sentiment; it assaults one with the only slightly iterative nature of revision in twitter-based discourse, etc. Though I intended it to function in service of progressive politics, what manifests is an implicit critique of political discourse.
  • Oppositional. My bot takes a stand, which Samples argues is an important element of automatized protest, but that stand is a catch-all aggregate of sometimes only ancillary stands – the #notnormal hashtag can be instrumentalized in a wide variety of political projects, and for that reason my bot’s stand can be at times incoherent. (I even had to delete two references to blonde tips that somehow appeared).
  • Uncanny. If, for Sample, bots should help reveal things that were previously hidden, then my bot fails entirely to satisfy this criteria; the tweets it produces have already been tweeted (and, in many cases, already retweeted). Instead of revealing the hidden, my bot exaggerates existing visibility.

I present this exercise, not as a means of self-castigation, but as a way of more rigorously reflecting on what seemed to be a clever project. And this has me rethinking my bot’s potential for revision and ongoing deployment.

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