Thoughts on a Spam Horse


I was trying for a while to come up a post with my thoughts and feelings on the news/confirmation that @horse_ebooks was in fact being run by humans. I had a lot of feelings about horse_ because horse_ was one of my very favorite things on the internet. Even though many including myself speculated that something changed about horse_ back in September 2011 when the posts stopped being posted via the Twitter client “horse_ebooks” but started coming “via web”, we didn’t know. There’s a big difference between thinking that perhaps your favorite goofy Twitter spam bot is actually a human and knowing that for sure.

The thing is, I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about horse_, and they’re highly complex. Chris Whitman summed up what I think is my greatest disappointment with the situation in his post:

The (admittedly pretty unrealistic) promise of the web was to smash the dichotomy between so-called content creators and their consumers. Corporate media is over. From now on we entertain each other, we inform each other, we all both produce and consume for and from each other.

Where this failed, of course, was in the tendency for word-of-mouth—especially on such an open platform—to produce exponential differences in the dissemination of voices and ideas. Traditional corporate-style media, with its wealth, power and connections, could simply integrate the few voices with the lion’s share of the popularity and attention who were looking for ways to leverage their exposure into a living wage. Specific companies rose and fell but we have remained in the majority consumers of corporate-produced media.

Inside this, spam bots, and @horse_ebooks in particular, represent found objects, marketing efforts repurposed as art by Twitter users, to be enjoyed outside their intended context. They aren’t invented by Twitter users, but the social context that elevates them to an artistic position is the result of a user-centred social movement. If Duchamp is the author of the Fountain, then Twitter users are the authors of @horse_ebooks.

I think that’s one part of where my disappointment originates: something that was in a sense created by Twitter users as an alternative to the status quo turned out to be a perfect example of that status quo. It’s a reminder that there is no escape from the horizon of the creator/consumer relationship, that we are told what to retweet, what to like, what to share to our friends, and we obediently do it. There’s no room for playful subversion, for any real irony, just cynicism.

Ultimately, I’m grateful that we had horse_ for a few years, both in its original true spambot form and its person pretending to be a spambot form that ended up remaining just as great. I’m disappointed to find out that the latter ultimately ended up being a vehicle for someone’s self-aggrandizement, but I’m more disappointed that there’s no more horse_ tweets.

Here’s a small list of other things people have written that resonated with me in some way:

And of course, my pal Erin Watson wrote a small book called No Experiences, in which she wrote a series of poems, each incorporating a horse_ tweet. Only 400 were printed, but you can still read all the poems on the website or buy a copy for a ridiculously paltry sum while they’re still available.