Horse_ebooks Twitter account isn’t spam, it’s performance art – sort of

Tori Floyd

Many of the spambots on Twitter – accounts that spit out seemingly incoherent and/or robotic phrases, often when someone uses a particular word, phrase or hashtag – are good for a mild chuckle every now and then, but it’s rare that one catches on quite like @Horse_ebooks. Seemingly more profound than most spambots found on Twitter, @Horse_ebooks spawned a fandom, as people dedicated fan fiction, poetry and a senior yearbook quote to the strange missives that the account spewed.

Some speculated that it was an attempt by an online bookstore to drum up interest, only to be left, neglected, to generate strange statements seemingly at random. Others thought it might have been a bot that was sharing excerpts from an upcoming book or movie. And there were a select few who thought that one of the spambots on Twitter had gained sentience and was trying to reach out – those people were largely ignored.

Today, those fans found out that @Horse_ebooks isn’t a spambot at all, but is part of a performance art project helmed by two very real people… at least, most of the time.

The minds behind @Horse_ebooks are Jacob Bakkila, a creative director at Buzzfeed, and Thomas Bender, former vice-president of product development at Howcast, The New Yorker has revealed. The pair is also responsible for the YouTube channel Pronunciation Book.

They announced on Tuesday that the last year and a half of tweets from @Horse_ebooks were a kind of performance art, all leading up to an exhibition at New York City’s FitzRoy Gallery, Engadget reports, called “Horse_ebooks 2.” You can take a virtual tour of the exhibition via Gawker here. According to The New York Times, the next stage of the project will be an interactive video piece called Bear Stearns Bravo, which is cryptically and kind of terrifyingly unveiled in this video, posted by Pronunciation Book on YouTube and shared via the @Horse_ebooks Twitter account. “But wait!” you longtime @Horse_ebooks fans say. “You said that they’ve been running it for a year and a half, but I’ve been following since 2010!” And you’d be right. The account was started in August 2010 to promote, an online store of horse-themed ebooks, Gawker reports. In February 2012, Gawker’s Adrian Chen went on a mission to find out who was behind the @Horse_ebooks account, and while he didn’t find his way back to Bakkila and Bender, he did trace it to Alexey Kouznetsov, a Russian web developer who had set up the original algorithm. In addition to promoting the website, the algorithm was designed to pick up snippets of books and send those out, in hopes of fooling Twitter into thinking it was a real person sending out the tweets. It appeared to work.

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In Chen’s research, he accidentally stumbled upon the moment that Bakkila took over the account, noting that the tweets were no longer being posted “via horse_ebooks” and instead were being posted “via web.” According to the loyal followers, the tweets got stranger, and began coming more often, as Bakkila capitalized on the odd mix of tweets the bot had been sending out.

And thus ends this very odd chapter on an Internet mystery that no one was really looking to solve. Twitter is filled with weird little gems like this, so it’ll only be a matter of time before the Internet community has a new passion to chase.

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