The artist as spambot: Daily Mail Reporter is brains behind horse_ebook
THE Twitter feed @horse_ebooks is not a spambot but a blog created and written by humans.
It may also turn out that the Daily Mail is not written by computers but humans deciding that Jan Moir (64% human) should be upset by the paper’s countless pictures of Miley Cyrus twerking. The super busy ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ might well be an actual person. He/She might one day mate with @horse_ebook and save the publishing industry a fortune in staff.
“When Susan Orlean (of all people!) revealed in the New Yorker (of all places!) that for at least the last two years, @Horse has actually been authored (shepherded? overseen? THERE IS NOT A WORD TO DESCRIBE THIS) by Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender two employees of Buzzfeed (seriously) and that the account was coming to an end today, with a culmination in a performance art piece (ouch) at a New York gallery (fuck), it felt devastating.”
[Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender] have been working on the project for almost four years, keeping their identities secret from just about everyone, including their colleagues at BuzzFeed, where Bakkila is a creative director, and Howcast, where Bender, until about a year ago, was the vice-president of product development.
Russell Brandom interviewed Bakkila:
For starters, Bakkila says he never scheduled a tweet. That meant late nights and fitful posting hours, but for Bakkila, the hardship was part of the art. He modeled the project off of the performance art pieces of Marina Abramovic and Tehching Hsieh, in which the artist’s endurance becomes a central focus of the art. “The point was to never automate it,” Bakkila says. “Part of the installation was performing with no breaks for two years. You begin to see things differently.”
Jason Farago scoffs:
If we were really to believe that @horse_ebooks was art, we would have to find some meaning or importance in its central conceit. Yet the indistinct border between human and machine is about as clichéd as it gets these days, and the hoodwinking of hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers is not a sign of some digital sprezzatura, but of the meaninglessness of the distinction in the first place.
Natalie Kane’s perspective:
The interesting thing is that, in being announced as human-controlled performance art, Horse_eBooks loses most of its power. Knowing that each post wasn’t algorithmically generated, but individually, manually created, tells us differently to what we thought we knew about the technologies that use this technique, less about data and scripts, and more about our need to emulate machines, so as to prove our own supposed authenticity.
Is it all just publicity stunts, or viral marketing?
@Horse_ebooks is a Twitter bot designed and automated by apparently some Russian guy to sell worthless, horrible ebooks about horses. In order to avoid being detected as a spam bot, it occasionally posts a text snippet or two from one of its ebooks, chosen at random. I will never buy an ebook from it, but I will follow this Twitter account until I die or horses become extinct, whichever comes first.
(Friends, before you become entirely crippled with ebook-related mirth, be sure to check out this week’s Twitter Tuesday for more from the exciting world of ebook spam!)
He should sue.