The best people to follow on Twitter are not people. They’re robots. About half of my personal Twitter feed consists of “bots”—little morsels of software built to tweet in a specific manner—because over time, I’ve learned bots are less likely to annoy me on Twitter than actual human beings. Bots don’t browbeat followers with their politics. They don’t bitch about airport delays. They don’t harass anyone (unless they’re programmed to do so, but that’s not very nice). Instead, the best bots are modest, quirky experiments in computer code that can yield fun, surprising results. They are docile and ego-free creatures who frolic in the internet’s endless playground of information, and to watch them play, you only have to click the “follow” button.
I’ve written about Twitter bots before, including bots who generate poetry, invent “clickbait” headlines, or inject a random art museum into your feed. One of my favorites is the previously mentioned TV Helper, which creates bizarre captions for images that it grabs from a broadcast feed. According to TV Helper’s description, this process “improves” TV, and it’s hard to dispute that claim:
TV Helper has been rewriting TV dialogue since early 2015, but more recently, it got a new “cousin”: Faces On TV Bot. Presumably programmed by TV Helper’s creator, David Lublin, Faces On TV Bot does what it says on the box. It watches TV and looks for images that trigger its particular face-recognition algorithm. Eat your heart out, Many-Faced God:
Unlike TV Helper, FOTB is non-verbal. Its pictures create a tableau that evokes a vast broadcast machine, ruthlessly digitizing and repackaging human likenesses to feed its insatiable audience. At the same time, the bot offers the simple, goofy comedy of catching people’s faces in weird expressions. Both the air of digital dystopia and the humor are enhanced by FOTB’s crude image processing, which tends to stretch faces so they seem smeared across your screen:
It’s also fun when FOTB screws up and fixates on an image that isn’t a face at all. Sometimes you can sort of tell why FOTB thought, “Face!”…
…and sometimes you can’t:
And the TV face magic doesn’t end there. The spin-off account Faces On TV Bot has its own spin-off account, Faces On TV Bot 2000, which assembles TV faces into elaborate mosaics and, in the process, creates arresting works of postmodern visual art:
Now, maybe you think these bots are neat, but you still prefer to have your main Twitter feed be populated by organic beings, so you’re hesitant to follow them. In that case, don’t forget that bots are great candidates for a Twitter list, a sort of sub-feed you can create that’s sequestered from your main feed. I’ll be posting about more of my favorite bots this week. If you have suggestions, tweet them to me at @johnteti—whether you’re human or not.