Bots police grammar in the world of Twitter
Programs respond to mistakes typed in incorrect tweets.
For a soft-spoken programmer from Buffalo, Nate Fanaro gets a lot of hate mail.
Every day, his Twitter queue fills up with messages telling him to die or delete his account. “I find you extremely annoying,” one caller said in a voice mail. “You make little girls cry. What’s your problem?” said another.
Fanaro is not a hacker. He doesn’t take down Web sites or swipe credit card numbers. Rather, the 30-year-old prankster is the creator of the Twitter grammar bot CapsCop, an automated account that finds people who tweet in all caps and, within seconds, fires a snarky correction back at them: “Give lowercase a chance,” perhaps, or “On Twitter, no one can hear you scream.”
The technology behind such bots is simple, which helps explain why so many tech-savvy grammarians have launched their own. Programmers need only write a script to search Twitter’s data and respond to certain phrases, and they’re well on their way to Twitter infamy.
Teachers, parents and other curmudgeons have long blamed texting and social media for the general decline of the English language. Considering the widespread disregard for grammar in certain corners of the Internet, they could “b 4given” for thinking that kids these days can’t write. (Because while we’re sometimes talking about outright mistakes, we’re also talking about the grammar-agnostic spirit that has evolved online.)
Although Twitter may seem like a stronghold of sloppy writing and acronym-happy Internet slang, a number of vigilantes are hilariously and controversially fighting back.
Bots such as Fanaro’s ping unsuspecting Twitter users with sarcastic corrections. Anonymous copy edit
ors such as fiercek send gentle revisions to work tweeted by writers and reporters. One of the newest accounts, a wildly popular project by Buzzfeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski, seeks to publicly shame users who tweet things like “speak English your in America omg.”
“I think you mean ‘you’re’ in America. That’s embarrassing,” YourInAmerica tweeted back to that one.
Since its launch in late November, Kaczynski’s account — which exclusively targets the phrase “your in America” — has attracted 18,000 followers and plenty of praise from media outlets such as Latina magazine, which lauded him for launching a “grammar crusade” against “outraged nativists.”