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Twitter brought on revolutions, they said, and I'm inclined to agree, but not in the way you think. While twitter was used to communicate during the uprising in Egypt, despite Vodaphone shutting down network services, and twitter increasingly beat the news deadlines with any social unrest or breaking news story, the revolution isn't in that strangers can communicate over hashtags. The revolution is the birth of a type of journalism that lives on twitter, creating the hashtags, steering the conversations, shaming random people for off-the-cuff jokes and tearing down other journalists for long format pieces. Someone suggested it should be called #ActivistJourno, it is fitting.
In the wake of Bruce Jenner gracing the cover of Vanity fair under new name Caitlyn Jenner, the twitter account she-not-he was born, a "bot politely correcting Twitter users who misgender Caitlyn Jenner", complete with mechanical whirring noises began crawling twitter for tweets to correct.
This rather poorly programmed Twitter bot searches twitter every 5 seconds for tweets containing "Jenner" and "he", does some basic filtering, then responds to the top tweets correcting them with a selection of "she not he" canned responses. It does this all day and all night, tirelessly. In the process the clumsy bot has misgendered Steve Harvey, Seinfeld, smallpox vaccine inventor Edward Jenner, Gustav Jenner and plenty more - because it can't read context & who the pronoun refers to in a sentence. Occasionally it runs into other twitter bots, as in the example image above.
This bot is credited to Caitlin Dewey ( @caitlindewey ) from the Washington Post and Andrew McGill ( @andrewmcgill ) from National Journal magazine. It apologises in advance for possible mistweets, but assuming all Jenner's are a "she" now is disrespectful of a surname that can be traced back to 1066 and every person named it. Not to mention it goes directly against Twitter's bot rules, that state quite clearly that "sending automated replies based on keyword searches is not permitted".
But aside from all that, why are two journalists creating a twitter bot in the first place, I mean other than for collecting tweets that may abide them in a news story? Journalists should report the news, not make news - and this bot story has been in Time, Mashable, The Independant, Business Insider, Slate, BBC and NY Daily News. Caitlin Dewey wrote about in her own Washington Post.
Caitlin Dewey writes that some people, upon encountering the bot, changed their tune:
Our online dialogues have become so toxic, so militarized, that it’s rare to change a mind or meet in the middle or otherwise agree reasonably on just about anything.
I have to agree, our online dialogue have become quite toxic, especially on Twitter, where short 140 char snark and drive-by-dialogue-bombing by bots has only made matters worse. The fact that journalists are spending less time finding out facts off line and more time creating the story on social media, is not the way to solve this issue. Instead of being a voice of reason or god forbid, objectivity, they are inserting themselves into the story... taking on the role of moral judge and jury.