I made @thinkpiecebot a couple weeks ago and it has really taken off; it already has more than twice as many followers as me. I’ve been interviewed about it twice already and have also gotten a lot of questions on Twitter, so I’m putting together the common ones so I don’t have to keep answering them over and over.
What do you use to make your bots?
All my bots except @NoraReedEbooks and @NORBORG_ebooks use Cheap Bots Done Quick, which runs on Tracery. I set up @NoraReedEbooks using this tutorial; @NORBORG_ebooks was built by @iglvzx; he made a tutorial on setting up your own.
How do they work?
Each bot has a series of formulas that it picks from at random and inserts words from predetermined lists. @Thinkpiecebot actually has two levels of these: the main formulas, such as “Do [GENERATIONAL GROUP] Really Love [RANDOM WORD/PHRASE SELECTED FROM ANY CATEGORY]?”, and a top-level formula that puts a publication prefix in front of one in six tweets.
As of this writing, @thinkpiecebot has main formulas and 25 variables. Some of these variables don’t include very many options: the formula that created the above tweet grabs the verb– “cure”– from a list with only two available options, “cure” and “cause”.
What inspired @thinkpiecebot? I’m a millennial, and I’m incredibly frustrated by articles written by people outside of our demographic attempting to explain us and doing so badly. You can’t throw a proverbial stone in the internet-news-o-sphere without hitting an article talking about how hypersensitive and vain we are. Boomers offer their Dunning-Kruger driven takes on trigger warnings, conveniently ignoring the freely available information on how PTSD triggers and exposure therapy actually work. They ask questions about why we don’t do things that require money, like have big weddings or buy houses, and come up with ridiculous reasons involving how we got too many awards as a kid as reasons instead of realizing that their generation completely ruined the economy. @Thinkpiecebot is a way to call out the predictability of these articles, as well as a lot of other kinds of ridiculous output, and the humor of it is a way to cope with the fact that people keep writing them and keep defining my generation by the trumped-up bullshit in them.
You’re really down on Boomers and capitalism. What’s with that?
Capitalist culture attempts to tie our ideas of self-worth to our economic output, and millennials have largely been forced into emotionally and physically draining dead-end jobs that underpay us, if we’re employed at all.
As a generation, we’re struggling to survive in the world that Boomers managed to completely fuck up, and they’re getting paid to write columns on how degenerate we all are for taking selfies. My whole life, I’ve been seeing the output of my generation shat on by people who can’t even be bothered to understand it.
From these people’s perspective, Twitter was a platform for self-obsessed 20-somethings to talk about what they had for breakfast, but after my generation figured out how to use it for large-scale political activism and to connect people to conversations that never would’ve existed, THEN they’re happy to get accounts to promote their “brand”. They’re happy to roll their eyes at fandoms that are creating enormous quantities of creative material and inspiring new writers and artists to make things for their own satisfaction and to share with their communities. They’ll complain about new gender identities and sexual orientations, never realizing how much of a balm to isolation it can be to have a word to describe how you are and to be able to connect to people who feel the same way.
How did you come up with the material for @thinkpiecebot?
Most of it is words and phrases I came up with while looking at horrible thinkpieces, but I got a lot of help from my Twitter followers. They did particularly invaluable work with helping me phrase some of the issues regarding marginalization and privilege; I wanted to be sure that wasn’t falling into doing “ironic bigotry”, and they helped a lot with coming up with specific phrasings that wouldn’t harm groups who are already being targeted by actual thinkpieces.
Does it run on its own?
I have it set up to post every hour, but sometimes when I add new stuff I have it post a handful of tweets using the new formulas/phrases, or when I’m messing with the code and it comes up with a particularly good sample tweet I will have it post that because it made me laugh.
So you’re still updating it?
I keep thinking of new things to add, so yeah. I’m guessing I will stop eventually, maybe once my cutting satire becomes so popular that everyone stops writing thinkpieces in shame.
I would like to pay you! How do I do that?
I have a Patreon and a PayPal tip jar. Thanks! Your contributions allow me to keep working on new bots and keep improving @thinkpiecebot!
Is @thinkpiecebot open source?
I’ve considered open sourcing my bots, but I am concerned that if I do that, men will do things with them. As soon as someone makes an open source licence that only allows use by women and non-binary folks and forces men to ask my permission to use my code, I’ll probably release it.
Update 5/4/16: I’m now sharing the code of TumblrSimulator for people to view to see how it works, and hydratebot is licenced to be shared if you’re interested. I share code excerpts with people who ask, but after being updated for nearly a year, @thinkpiecebot is kind of a behemoth; it wouldn’t be very useful as a learning tool, because it’s kind of a kludgey mess on the back end.
Are you serious? Isn’t that… misandry?
Why did you block me?
I share my personal blocklist with my bots so that it’s harder for people to harass me via those accounts. As an outspoken feminist, I’m a regular target for online abuse. I might notice if you tweet @ it asking nicely to be unblocked, but it’s my bot, and I get to choose if I don’t want people to have access to it.
Is this really a bot?/Don’t you at least hand-pick the best ones and schedule them?
Yeah, it is, it just seems more coherent than lots of the bots you’re used to because it’s formula-based, not using Markov chains or other, similar techniques. The hourly tweets– the ones that tweet at :11 after the hour– are totally automatic. I do occasionally do tweet-bursts when I add new content, and I pick which of those tweets go up; I also sometimes tweak the code a bit so that new stuff is more likely to come up. The only tweets I hand-write are the ones where I ask for money.
Where else can I follow @thinkpiecebot?
I recently set up a Tumblr for it; it cross-posts tweets from Twitter over there too.
Why did @thinkpiecebot just tweet a bunch of times in a row?
I sometimes do tweet-bursts when I add new content. It’ll stop in a minute.
Will you add ________ to @thinkpiecebot?
Maybe; I do take suggestions that are tweeted to @NoraReed. However, there are a lot of places I don’t want @thinkpiecebot to go because they end up way too close to just parroting the people the bot is meant to make fun of. I’ve taken things out that make jokes that are too close to punching down and/or being “too real” before– namely “AIDS”– because they just felt like what happens when you play Cards Against Humanity or MadLibs with assholes.
What other work do you do?
I run a both my personal blog at barrl.net and What Is GamerGate Currently Ruining; I also tweet as @NoraReed and have a bunch of other Twitter bots. (Here’s a full list of my essays, games and other projects.)
Do you take interviews?
Usually yes! If you aren’t paying me– which is fine– I’ll want you to include links to ways your readers can do so, because I’m an artist, and I need money for burritos, which I metabolize into more bots.