Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

On Twitter Usernames and ‘Bots’

Darius Kazemi (via Andy Baio):

There’s a common belief that Twitter accounts with usernames like @jsmith12345678 must be bots, or trolls, or otherwise nefarious actors.

The thing is, since at least as far back as December 2017, the Twitter signup process has not allowed you to choose your own username! It instead gives you a name based on your first and last name, plus eight numbers on the end. You aren’t prompted to pick a more distinctive username after that, and you can change it but you need to figure out how to do it yourself.

One of the great mysteries of the last four years is how eager Twitter users are to call each other a “bot”. Another mystery is how robot-like many of the accounts on Twitter appear to be. There are common traits: they react almost impossibly quickly to tweets from politicians and journalists alike, they use loads of emoji in their screen name, and stuff their bios full of hashtags and the phrase “no DMs”. They often ride dangerously close to a parody of whatever party line they toe and, consequently, post nothing of substance. They also tend to swarm hashtags and specific phrases in order to get topics to trend.

So, I have to wonder: are these accounts truly some form of scripted entity, or are they just morons with fast fingers? It sure is hard to tell.

Update: Kylie Brakeman’s take is far better than mine.