Famous Twitter Spambot Horse_ebooks Is Actually A BuzzFeeᴅ Employee
Horse_ebooks, perhaps the most famous spambot on Twitter, is not what it appears. Today the New Yorker revealed the story—and the people—behind the project. The culprits: a BuzzFeeᴅ employee, a physics student, and, somehow, Susan Orlean.
On Twitter, there is an account by the name of @Horse_ebooks. It is perhaps the most famous nonsense account on the entire social network, spewing out non-sequiturs and bits of stuttering oddness like “As you might know, I am a full-time Internet” and “Who Else Wants To Become A Golf Ball.” Originally, it appeared to be a spam account, designed to sell computer-generated ebooks about horses by tweeting excerpts from them. These were often funny and weird, and the account quickly gained a following among the sort of internet users who like weird funny things. The two most definitive articles about Horse_ebooks, from John Herrman, writing for Splitsider, and Adrian Chen at Gawker, both note that something a little odd happened to the account on September 14th, 2011. And now we found out what that was.
On September 14th, Horse_ebooks began tweeting “via web,” meaning the tweets were entered at Twitter.com, rather than “via horse ebooks,” a custom client that was used up until that point. The tweets also started getting more predictably funny; Horse_ebooks had previously tweeted an awful lot of nonsense, with some gems buried within, but after September 14th the funny tweets seemed to flow more often. And thanks to, of all people and of all places, Susan Orlean at the New Yorker, we know what it was. Somehow, two New-York-based jokers, Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender, managed to wrest control of @Horse_ebooks away from the Russian spammer who birthed it, and began running the account as a sort of conceptual art project.
Bakkila is an employee at BuzzFeeᴅ, working in creative (the advertising/business side of things), and among those who follow such things, is best known for the now-defunct (and very funny) Twitter account @agentlebrees. Bender has long been rumored to be associated with PronunciationBook, another oddball “weird internet” account that simply reads aloud numbers in brief YouTube videos. In a brief post at the New Yorker, veteran staff writer Susan Orlean–yeah, that Susan Orlean–revealed that Bakkila and Bender were behind the two projects, and that they would be participating in a performance art installation involving both Horse_ebooks and PronunciationBook today at a gallery in New York’s Lower East Side.
At the gallery, Bakkila, Bender, and Orlean sit at a desk answering phone calls. The phone number was posted on @Horse_ebooks this morning. When called, Bakkila, Bender, or Orlean will answer the phone and read an excerpt from the accounts.
I’ve been told that a full-length profile is forthcoming in the New Yorker, explaining just what the hell is going on here.