Botification of the Twitterary Protest Poetry: @Protestitas’ Protestitas
Yohanna Joseph Waliya
University of Calabar
Citation: Waliya, Yohanna Joseph. “Botification of the Twitterary Protest Poetry: @Protestitas’ Protestitas.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 22, 2020. doi:10.20415/hyp/022.r07
Keywords: Twitter, Twitterbot poetry, @Protestitas, @TinyProtests, Botification, Neoliberalism.
Flores, Leonardo (@Protestitas). Protestitas. Twitter.
@Protestitas is a protest/TwitterArt bot that generates Spanish visual Twitterpoetry called “Protestitas,” meaning TinyProtests. These poetic protestistas denounce socio-economic injustices caused by U.S. neoliberal and rightwing policies. In other words, the Twitterbot defends the human rights of African-Americans, Latinxs, LGBTQ people, women, school children, Internet users during Covid19 lockdown and other marginalized groups. It algorithmically generates its poem in unlimited sequential stanzas dotted with some twittexts and ample emojis as a new multimodal distant writing phenomenon.
This Twitterbot was spun off by Leonardo Flores on May 5, 2018 from @TinyProtests bot’s source code, which was published a year earlier (when Twitter still limited its tweets to the maximum of 140 characters, punctuation and space included), and recently updated in 2020. In the Fall of 2018, both the English and Spanish versions were republished under the combined title TinyProtests/Protestitas as digital minimalist poems of two in Taper, an online literary magazine for small computational pieces. @Protestitas bot follows all accounts that mention its name automatically. Because of this, there is no need to subscribe or follow it. Just mention its name in your post, and it will tweet updates on your Twitter account’s timeline (See a sample of @Protestitas’ Protestitas in figure i.0 below).
The generator’s timer sets the differential frequency for @Protestitas to create from 8 to 24 unique stanzas daily, i.e. in intervals of 1 to 3 hours. Consequently, it generates randomly 2920 to 8760 stanzas annually. The time interval of generating poems depends on the Web browser, data source, and the memory of the digital device used. Its poetic language combines plain prose with perceptual emotions, preoccupations, pathos and ethos summed up in emojis. The visual rhetoric of the pieces above attempts to depict some buildings, houses, fountains, and nature as gated off from the masses of emoji-people who bear various expressions (anger, sorrow, and fear among them) and followed by a political slogan. Each stanza of Protestitas has its own unique variable micro-text or hetero-metrical monostich at the bottom of the emojis set. @Protestitas, orthographically, is probably inspired by Fred Benenson’s translation of Moby Dick into emoji as Emoji Dick in 2010, and Rector Jamie’s Shakespeare Brand project that summarizes the famous plays of Shakespeare in 2015: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth as the book covers hosted on his blog. As with many emoji-based works, there is some ambiguity, as emojis are popular expressions of emotion but also can register as superficial. This raises the question of whether or not these Protestistas are ironic. While such slogans generally convey real sentiments, rendering them programmatically through bot generated, emoji-ladened tweets might also be read as commentary on the performative nature of activism because Protestitas is a Twitter botification of Puerto Rican urban street protests.
@Protestitas’ Protestitas can be categorized as digital poetry and World Literature on Twitter. World Literature because of its wider translation distribution in diverse languages, i.e. its accessibility and affordability. It is also a sub-genre of “algo-literature” (Mertens 2004) and twitterature because it is algorithmically generated online. Adding to its global character is its strong post-colonial orientation, which is focused on marginalized people regardless of religion, race, gender, nationality and ethnicity across the globe.
The tininess of the Twitterbot-poetry is obviously conscripted to fit the Twitterverse. @Protestitas differs from Katie Rose Pipkin’s @tiny_star_field Twitterbot, which generates small stars with asterisks in the sky using ASCII art as TwitterArts and digital poetry of space. Other similar Twitterbots in this same category are: @petitsmotifs which equally display every hour written graphic elements in ASCII art too; @infinitedeserts generates emoji of deserts as a genre of TwitterArt in ASCII characters; Eli Brody's @tiny_astro_naut, Emma Winston's series @tiny_cityscapes, @tiny_gardens, Élika Ortega's @tinyrelations (Flores 2018), Amanda Glosson's series @tinyneighbor and @tinyspire, and Kate Compton's @TinyAdv that generates texts grafted in images etc.
All these Twitterbots mentioned above generate emojis as a writing system with the exception of @tinyrelations and @Protestitas/@TinyProtests that complement tweets by emojis. As for @tinyrelations, it is a Twitterbot playwright which generates a scene in five acts every 6 hours as Twitterbot performance imitating dramatists of the Middle Ages. Notwithstanding, I appreciate @Protestitas’ Protestitas more than other Twitterbot poems written in tiny texts complemented by emojis for its explicit perceptual differentiation as well as perceptual uniqueness.
Investigating the source code of the Twitterbot critically, both @Protestitas and @TinyProtests share the same source code but tweet separately as independent accounts on Twitter. They center their tweetary poems on ten major slogans (micro-texts): US gun control policy (guncontrolslogans), Puerto Ricans (PRslogans), USA (USslogans), women (womenslogans), the scientific world (scienceslogans), the situation of education in general (educationslogans), University of Puerto Rico (UPRslogans), normal daily routines (NORMALshortslogans), response to Covid19 (respuestacovid) and responses (respuesta) expected from the government and the society. The Spanish version is addressed to Puerto Ricans while the English version is addressed to the U.S. government. These major slogans reveal the intentionality of the bot programmer or rather metapoet.
I noticed that @Protestitas has a problem of generation time to set interval both on Taper’s website and on Twitter microblog. The differential frequency of generation on Twitter is very slow. For example, if one sets to read stanzas of the Twitterbot poem sequentially in order of generation in a day, one must spend 3 to 24 hours reading just 1 to 24 stanzas. On the other hand, on Taper’s website, the frequency is faster for a reader because the generator generates sequentially a stanza either in English or Spanish in 2 seconds. Then, one can resolve to read the Protestitas orTinyProtests on twitter starting from previous hours to the actual hour.
Moreover, I appreciate @Protestitas for its protest against failed human institutions that are marginalizing their subjects. Therefore, I recommend @Protestitas’ Protestitas to all digital literature scholars and students to explore it more as its source code is available for critical code studies and its poetic language is explicit. If one likes to critique source code, one can just click on the link to Cheap Bots, Done Quick beneath its tweets.
I extremely appreciate Alex Gil, PhD., Davin Heckman and Caitlin Fisher, Ph.D. for editing, proofreading, and encouraging me in this field that is still new to African scholars in Africa.
Flores, Leonardo. “Arte y Activismo Digital : @protestitas.” 80grados.net/arte-y-activismo-digital-protestitas, 2018.
Mertens, An. “La Littérature Numérique & La Création En Réseau.” In [Lire + Écrire]. Paris : La Région Pays de la Loire, 2004.