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A Twitter Bot For Handclap Emoji Tweets Had To Shut Down Because It Became Racist

This is why we canโ€™t have nice things.

Posted on January 27, 2017, at 3:15 p.m. ET

On Twitter, thereโ€™s a convention of adding the handclap emojis between each word for added emphasis. Imagine it done out loud, with a clap for each word: The effect is like a preschool teacher yelling at a child who doesnโ€™t listen, or a cheerleader rah-rah-ing a statement. Like this:

If๐Ÿ‘any๐Ÿ‘body๐Ÿ‘ ever๐Ÿ‘ uses๐Ÿ‘ the๐Ÿ‘ word ๐Ÿ‘moist๐Ÿ‘ in๐Ÿ‘ any๐Ÿ‘ other ๐Ÿ‘way๐Ÿ‘ but๐Ÿ‘ to๐Ÿ‘ describe ๐Ÿ‘cake ๐Ÿ‘that's๐Ÿ‘ fade ๐Ÿ‘ on ๐Ÿ‘site๐Ÿ‘!!

The convention has been a meme for a few years, which means itโ€™s permuted into various levels of irony. Like this:

I'm ๐Ÿ‘ not ๐Ÿ‘ trying ๐Ÿ‘ to ๐Ÿ‘ emphasize ๐Ÿ‘ a ๐Ÿ‘ point ๐Ÿ‘ I'm ๐Ÿ‘ just ๐Ÿ‘ trying ๐Ÿ‘ to ๐Ÿ‘ kill ๐Ÿ‘ this ๐Ÿ‘ fucking ๐Ÿ‘ mosquito

Serena Parr, a graduate student at NYUโ€™s Interactive Telecommunications Program, came up with the idea for a bot that would retweet emoji handclap tweets as a class project a few weeks ago. Since the handclaps are used for something youโ€™re saying with conviction, Parr thought it would be amusing to see a feed of peopleโ€™s most emphatic opinions, both serious and silly.


The first challenge was searching for these tweets. Normally, you canโ€™t search emojis on Twitter, so Parr turned to a tool made by Matthew Rothenberg for his very fun website Emoji Tracker, which shows you real-time emoji use on Twitter. With a little bit of coding magic, the bot was made and launched in mid-January. She called it @lol_yelling.

And then, the inevitable and obvious thing happened. Much like Tay, the Microsoft Twitter bot that quickly became a Neo Nazi, within just two days, @lol_yelling took on the tenor of the rest of the cesspool of Twitter.

Parr wasnโ€™t naive to the fact Twitter is often full of harassment and abuse, and she deleted her own personal account recently. โ€œIt was making me feel bad and miserable about the world,โ€ she told me. She built into her bot a word filter to block out offensive language. But racism on Twitter isnโ€™t just tweets that use the n-word. Ideologically racist stuff, like someone insisting that reverse racism is real or arguing that MLKโ€™s โ€œI have a dreamโ€ speech is bad because black people also owned slaves, kept getting through Parrโ€™s filter. It was the kind of stuff that wouldnโ€™t necessarily get someone banned, but is offensive to a reasonable person.

โ€œIf you click on these profiles, theyโ€™d retweet the most vile, racist, disgusting things. It was a strange glimpse into how this part of Twitter works,โ€ Parr said. โ€œThereโ€™s also really bad images and memes that would never get caught by a racist word filter.โ€

Less than five full days after it was created, Parr deactivated the bot, because she didnโ€™t want to have to keep filtering out the bad tweets. She was keenly aware that the handclap emoji convention started in Black Twitter โ€” and the fact that itโ€™s become so widespread that racists are using it makes the whole thing even more ironic and sad.

The bot isnโ€™t doing any more retweets, but its account is still up, in case you want to enjoy it as a living monument to the fact that Twitter ruins everything .

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    Katie Notopoulos is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture and is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.

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