My response to this week’s readings may or may not be inspired by the movie “Ex Machina,” and if it is clouded by watching this movie, please don’t judge me.
While reading Mark Sample’s article about protest bots on Twitter, I switched over to Twitter every so often to see the Tweets that some of these bots produced to see how their programs churned out different products and whether or not the intended message came across. I went to @ClearCongress and @NRA_Tally to read the tweets, and in both cases, I found an amalgamation of words programmed to fit together. And nowhere in these tweets did I get a sense of the human behind them.
To explain the connection, the movie is centered around performing an adaptation of the Turing Test on a robot. The Turing Test involves having a human have a conversation on a computer and decide whether the party on the other side were a computer or a person. If the human tester says that s/he conversed with another human, and in reality it was a robot, then the robot passes the Turing test. The test aims to see whether a robot can replicate humanity, and while the movie focused on a slightly adapted version of the Turing test—where the tester knows he is talking to a robot but tests the robot for human-like knowledge and understanding.
This applies perfectly to Twitterbots, as we know that they are a series of code, but the question is whether they feel human and bring out the human in us. I would argue that it does, since skating along the border of the uncanny valley makes it more difficult to ingest the message and instead focus on how close to human (but not quite) these bots are. While reading the tweets from @NRA_Tally, I noticed some of the same headlines popping up in different configurations, and found that really distracting. I understood the extent to which gun control is a problem, but the way that the tweets kept repeating—literally recycled reactions—it seemed to lessen the impact and just make the repetition more annoying.
Another reading that echoed my sentiments was Suey Park’s reaction to the explosion of the #NotYourAsianSidekick hashtag. She cites the curated efforts of her and thousands of other Asian Americans as the driving force behind the success of this hashtag, highlighting the struggle of Asian Americans to get equal representation. These different perspectives keep the conversation moving forward, add new ideas, and keep the momentum to a growing conversation.
What I think this illustrates is a need for community in making change happen. It was the sea of voices that gave Park’s hashtag the bite it had, and the variety of voices echoing the same sentiment showed just how prevalent this perspective was. It was the lived experience collected in the lives of thousands of people that led to the power of this hashtag, and it’s not clear how the Twitter bot fits in to this conversation. It can share the voice of a movement, but without the real community backing behind it, Twitterbots just sound like the echo of an already existing community. Basically, Twitterbots fail the Turing test.