Twitterbots are a kind of simple chatbot. They are automated programs that tweet (post text messages) on the social media site Twitter. They can autonomously respond to questions or statements directed toward them, they can search out certain keywords or phrases and send an unsolicited response, or they can be set to generate spontaneous tweets at specified intervals. They can also like and share tweets from other accounts.
This kind of program isn’t limited to just Twitter. Automated “bots” make up more than half of all internet traffic, performing simple, repetitive tasks such as collecting and storing web server files, many times faster than a human user.
Twitterbot text generation works by using a markov chain to iterate through a block of sample text, referred to as the database. Using a seedword, the bot creates a string of words, which forms the length of the sentence. Then the bot loops through the database, replacing the seedwords with random words along the length of the sentence. The results can be quit nonsensical (to illustrate, here is a link to my bot), but that is part of the fun. The bot is run on a PC and communicates through an API to post the generated text onto the account.
Perhaps the ultimate goal of a chatbot is to pass the Turing test. This is a test in which a computer impersonates a human such that a person is convinced they are talking with another human and not a machine. A more practical goal is sharing useful information automatically, such as weather alerts, sales discounts or public transportation issues.
Twitterbots were extensively used during the 2016 Presidential Election. Nearly 1 in 5 politically oriented Twitter accounts were heavily automated, tweeting upwards of 50 times a day. Automated Pro Trump accounts out-tweeted Pro Clinton accounts 7:1 during the presidential debates.
Creating your own Twitterbot is relatively easy. All you need is a spare Twitter account and access to Twitter’s API. The good people at Pygaze, a programming and psychology research group, have provided the software and outlined the steps for implementing your own bots. Check it out, and leave a link to your bot in the comment section below!
For other links about Twitterbots, click here.
Featured Image: “Zwarte ibis Plegadis falcinellus″ by Jos Zwarts