For the past few years, the Twitter account @horse_ebooks has delighted hundreds of thousands of followers with algorithmically generated excerpts of found text like “Everything happens so much,” “Crying is great exercise,” and “Unfortunately, as you probably already know, people.”
Or so everyone thought. As it turns out, though the account did start as a spambot, it was taken over in 2011 by Buzzfeed employee Jacob Bakkila (formerly known as Twitter user @AGentleBrees), who operated it in conjunction with another Internet phenomenon, YouTube channel Pronunciation Book, now known to be run by Bakkila’s friend Thomas Bender. The two men revealed their ruse in order to end those projects and promote a new alternate-reality game they’ve created called Bear Sterns Bravo.
The revelation is controversial, not only because people are understandably upset about being tricked, but also because Bakkila apparently lied to one reporter in order to give a different reporter the scoop.
This would all just be another day in the weirder provinces of the Internet, except that that different reporter was Susan Orlean, and since she broke the story for the New Yorker, it’s been covered by pretty much every mainstream new publication, including the New York Times, the Washington Post (more than once!), and the Atlantic.
Clearly, these bizarro social media gimmicks have taken on a larger significance. At the very least, they’re experimenting with truly original ideas of performance and comedy. We may even look back on them as the pioneers of a wholly new kind of art, the first to use the Internet not as a way to try to reproduce or disseminate existing art forms but rather as a rich and challenging medium in its own right. Or we may not.