This Twitter bot makes sexist and racist trolls look like the jackasses they are
For women online, it’s a sad fact that harassment and trolling aren’t going away anytime soon. However, activist Sarah Nyberg is fighting back with a Twitter bot that makes harassers and trolls look ridiculous. The bot, which goes by the handle @arguetron, generates statements meant to provoke disagreement (to put it mildly) from racists, sexists, neo-Nazis, Islamophobes, Gamergaters, and anyone else who’s looking for a fight on the internet.
Statements like “I feel sorry for you if you like Julian Assange” or “Muslims should be able to wear the hijab if they wish.” With the username “Liz,” the bot is implicitly presented as a female Twitter user to further bait the trolls.
To be clear, this isn’t a case of pouring oil on a trash-fueled fire. The bot doesn’t engage with anyone unless they tweet at it first. As Nyberg told The Verge, it just tweets “simple things like ‘never listen to Donald Trump’ or ‘trans women are women,’ yet it’s enough to outrage a lot of the reactionaries that search for people to have fights with.”
And that outrage, despite its vicious and hateful nature, can also be hilarious. Although the bot’s early tweets are no longer available (perhaps because its audience has started to catch on), Nyberg kept screenshots of its best interactions. These include the irony of Trump supporters trying to get the bot shut down for harassment, good old-fashioned unwanted sexual advances toward the Twitter bot, and someone who argued with it for almost 10 hours.
Who has time to fight with anyone online for 10 straight hours, unless they have absolutely nothing else going on in their life?
Even though watching bigots have meltdown arguments with something that isn’t even human is pretty enjoyable, Nyberg says the primary purpose of the bot isn’t entertainment. She told Engadget her aim is to encourage others to “critically look at how toxic Twitter can be, especially for people expressing these kinds of opinions.” Considering how much effort tweeters put into “debating” a bot, hopefully this will generate more awareness of the damage harassers can do when dealing with real people.
Given that Twitter’s repeated promises to curb harassment on its platform have amounted to more or less jack shit, though, the long-range impact of this project remains to be seen. However, there’s every chance it might inspire other tech-savvy tweeters to find new ways of keeping trolls and harassers too busy to attack actual humans. Maybe we’ll be able to let the bots take the heat so we can live our lives.