What’s with @thinkpiecebot lately?

It’s been over a year since I started @thinkpiecebot, and it’s grown a LOT in the interim. The code is a huge, often unwieldy mess, there are over 100 formulas in it, and in the past couple of months the scope and the tone has gone through some… changes.

It was a rough election year, and since we elected a white supremacist sexual predator as the next president of the United States, it’s only gotten worse.  We’re watching a fascist gather military leaders around him and fuck up foreign policy for his own profit. Abortion bans gaining traction, hate crimes going up, reasons to crack down on the poor, on POC, on trans people, all going into overdrive.

It wasn’t good to begin with. At any given time, I know about a dozen people crowdfunding their medical expenses, and more people their other survival needs.

Meanwhile, the discourse has been absolute garbage. We keep seeing fawning profiles and photo shoots with the ringleaders of hate groups, normalizing them. A bunch of dudes on the left have managed to normalize a political environment that mostly consists of them taking screenshots of marginalized leftists on Twitter and making jokes about and/or harassing them; to add insult to injury, the jokes aren’t even very good. This happened. Political propaganda and coordinated disinformation campaigns are being called “fake news” and confused with The Onion, which also isn’t very good anymore. Dudes keep calling for “civility” and “respect” for the people who supported our fascist president-elect. The Daily Show gave a white supremacist a platform that got her a NY Times puff piece, then sent her cupcakes. That’s just a sample.

Personally, I’ve been dealing with a group of stalkers that a prominent “feminist activist” sent on me. I have various groups of people, some of them trans, showing up to tell me my gender isn’t real at least once a week now. Throw in some medical problems and mostly I’m mostly a ball of exhaustion and low-simmering rage that happens to take human form and make Twitter bots, and if I look at my friends, I see that I’ve still got it pretty good.

When I started thinkpiecebot, I was mostly making fun of terrible op-eds by baby boomers where they pretend they didn’t ruin the economy and fuck over our entire generation. Lately, though, I’ve been pretty much channeling all of my frustration and rage at the current state of political discourse, the utter failures of journalism to cover what this is– a full-scale fascist revival, and the mostly cishet white dudes with platforms who refuse to step aside and let people who aren’t so privilege-blinded that they don’t know what they’re talking about do their jobs. The total spinelessness of both the liberal media and the Democratic party has been predictable but disappointing, and I’m seeing a lot of the people I care about be thrown under the bus in an attempt to be conciliatory with neo-nazis. And, well, this bot is the platform I have, and the headlines are still terrible enough that I can riff on that.

Thinkpiecebot is built in Tracery, and it works by having a series of formulas with lists of things that get plugged in. For example, “[EXCLAMATION], A [MODIFIER] [BIGOT TYPE]” can make tweets like “Holy Shit, A Suit-Wearing Racist”. Most of my formulas have pretty long lists of words that can get plugged into them, but I’m at a point where I have over 100 formulas, so I can put in a few that have a more limited selection of possible phrases and not worry about them naturally coming up more than every few days. I’ve been putting in a lot more formulas that are extremely pointed criticism at specific types of stories.  

This isn’t an accident, and it isn’t a bot that learns automatically picking something up. This is me, attempting to use satire to point out something that the media is utterly failing at, assisted by a random number generator. Sometimes it works really well. For example:

What’s great about the evolution of thinkpiecebot is that a lot of the pieces I was originally mocking were about various forms of completely trivial bullshit, from cupcake shops to comic books, and I’ve been expanding it for over a year. That’s a year of reading terrible thinkpieces, taking suggestions from people on Twitter, and sending drunk emails to myself while my friends are in the bathroom to remind myself to put the stuff we were talking about in when I get home. It means there’s over 1,500 unique phrases in the bot that get plugged into the 100+ formulas.

I can’t hold all the stuff that goes in there in my head at a time; I’d never have thought to put “Cupcake Shops” in the above tweet. That’s the power of the random number generator. When you combine it with phrases like “The United States Electing A Sexual Predator As President” and “Headlines That Are Too Fucking Precious To Use The Word ‘Fascism'” that are obviously written by me in my voice, the bot starts to sound less like a bot and more like me.

The bot’s less funny now. But sticking with making fun of the kind of shitty thinkpiece that was bugging me in the middle of 2015 would have just made it slip into irrelevance, and from the beginning, thinkpiecebot has been a living project that expands and changes. I’m longing for a time when the thinkpieces that made me mad were just boomer nonsense about Pokémon, but I think this bot is gonna keep getting darker for a while ago. Maybe it will be funnier if we can fix the world.

The Official @Thinkpiecebot FAQ

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?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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.

what I’ve been up to lately

I’ve been writing here less because I’ve mostly been doing work on Twitter and What Is GamerGate Currently Ruining for the past few months. I started the #RooshIsARapist hashtag, which quickly turned into calling on Amazon to remove his books from their store (more info on Roosh from WIGGCR). I wrote a Twitter essay yesterday on Roosh, GamerGate, Men’s Rights “Activism”, Pick-Up Artists and the relationships between them, male entitlement, and rape culture.

In bot news, I made @wigglebunch, which comes up with great things to call your pet, for Pet Jam.

I also put together a page on here for all of my projects, so you can view them in one place, and I’m putting some of my essays that I write here on Medium as well.

That Article was horseshit. It was also biphobic, but that’s not the only reason it was horseshit.

So everyone on the Queer Internet– or at least Queer Twitter– has been talking about this awful article in XOJane, and there are a few things I want to say about it.

The first is that this is biphobic as hell. Bi people get our queerness policed all the time. I get that people are mad that we have passing privilege, but the privilege to pretend to be something you aren’t and have a part of your identity unrecognized unless you are constantly reaffirming it isn’t fun. In addition, we’re disproportionately subjected to violence and suffer from higher rates of mental illness and suicide than lesbians. (spidey_j, over on Twitter, did a great round-up of the facts on this.)

I saw responses on Twitter that were attempting to turn this around by saying “well if you’re really bisexual you aren’t who the article is talking about”, sometimes actually including that maybe we’re the biphobic ones by thinking it was.

Here’s the thing: when a bunch of bi people read a thing and say “hey, this contributes to a culture that explicitly marginalizes and excludes us”, you should fucking believe us.

The second thing is that this is yet another thing that is trying to place gayness at the center of what it means to be queer, and that’s fucking bullshit. Queerness is an intentionally big umbrella because there is room for a lot of different people under it. For all that the article drops some stuff about dating non-binary folks, it’s explicitly about women who, for whatever reason, don’t date women, and saying they’re co-opting queerness by claiming that identity.

There’s a ton of women who absolutely have claim to queerness if the want to, even if they don’t date women. Transgender women, asexual and/or aromantic women, women who don’t date or fuck at all for whatever reason, women who aren’t able to publicly out themselves because of danger, and a lot more kinds of women who aren’t– however they present themselves, since many people have been coerced into the closet– cisgender and/or heterosexual.

The third is that this article made me feel less welcome in queer and/or lesbian spaces, and the women who posted agreement with it made me feel less safe, even though I’m doing the “correct” things that the author wants me to do, like outing myself all the time and shoving my queerness in the straights’ faces all the time. This kind of piece gives people permission to play Queer Police, to make us have to make sure we’re Gay Enough to occupy queer spaces, that we’re passing the You Must Be This Gay To Ride test. Knowing that well, I’m not one of those bisexuals doesn’t help, because my queerness isn’t a condition that can be erased just because the “real gays” don’t approve of it.

Reed’s Law

A long, tedious forum conversation about sexism this week made me invent Reed’s Law: “Any conversation in which a specific type of men’s sexist behavior is discussed will have men come in and perform the sexist behavior that is being discussed.”

It’s a kind of very, very specific application of Lewis’ Law, “Comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.”

Bad Blood is the best action movie of this year, fight me

Okay, I know we’re only at the beginning of the summer and I haven’t even seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet but I’m prepared to say that Taylor Swift’s music video for “Bad Blood” is the best action movie of this year.

Here is everything good about sci-fi action movies. All of these things are in her video:

  • Badass looking but actually incredibly impractical weapons and outfits
  • Ridiculous awesome futuristic makeup that will is already kinda ridiculous but will probably look super dated in like 2 years
  • That thing where someone’s awesome superhero name comes up on the screen after they do something cool
  • Three-point landings
  • Windows shattering in slow motion as people get thrown through them
  • Sci-fi looking lighting schemes that are in those computer-y motherboard-type patterns
  • Boots
  • Shaking hair out after taking off a motorcycle helmet
  • Tron bikes

Here is everything boring about sci-fi action movies. None of these things are in her video:

  • People getting their cool outfits all dirty in ways that doesn’t even look cool and then staying like that for the whole rest of the movie, just to show how “gritty” it is
  • Grittiness in general
  • The male protagonist’s female loved ones getting fridged so he can develop as a character
  • Male protagonists wincing a lot and looking angry/constipated
  • Male protagonist character arcs in general
  • Male protagonists
  • Men in general (Kendrick Lamar excepted)

I would stiletto-saunter over the corpses of a hundred Age of Ultrons for a feature film based on this music video. This is a post-Jupiter Ascending world, people. Give us what we want: 2 hours of Taylor Swift featuring 400 outfits and guest starring literally every woman in the music industry or Hollywood or whoever with each one getting a cool name and an original outfit and weapon.

an open letter to the dude who honked at me and my friend with his kid in the car

Dear Asshole,

What the fuck is wrong with you, you human piece of garbage? Your kid looked about ten years old and you’re driving around honking at women? We were walking to the Thai restaurant and we literally were on central for less than a quarter of a block and we got honked at twice, once from you and once from some other asshole, and once when we were leaving the restaurant. That’s, like, a 45 second window for you shitheads to engage in street harassment, and you just HAD TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT, didn’t you?

You couldn’t wait to aggressively assert your right to comment on and control women’s bodies until you aren’t teaching this shit to your goddamn child, either. You had to do your best to assert that the next generation turns out to be as infected by rape culture and disrespect of half the human fucking species as you are.

I hope your kid covers your entire house in Legos and rats destroy all of your shoes and you have to walk around on them in the dark. I hope next time someone like you does this to me I remember to carry a rock so I can throw it at you and fuck up your car’s precious paintjob.

Sincerely,

Nora Reed

What is #GamerGate Currently Ruining

So I did an overhaul on whatisgamergatecurrentlyruining and threw a blog on there to keep track of past ruinings. I’m gonna try to keep the summaries of what’s going on to a paragraph or so in length, because there are a ton of people doing long-ass writeups on GG and their tantrums, and sometimes you don’t want to bury yourself in all that shit, you know? But since I’m reading it anyway, I’ll summarize it and give you some more links, if you want ’em. So far I’ve done Calgary Expo and the Hugo Awards, but let me know (here or on Twitter, I turned off comments there because of reasons) if there are other things you want quick summaries of and I’ll throw some more entries together.