Twitter’s T-Shirt Bots Are Undefeated and Verified by Elon Musk

T-Shirt bots have been on Twitter for years, but now they've got blue check marks and prominent placement on your timeline.
Image via Twitter.

If you were scrolling Twitter this weekend, you may have seen a number of outrageous and ridiculous T-shirts on offer. There was a Harry Potter shirt that repeated the false rumor that author J.K. Rowling killed two people while driving drunk in 1993, a copyright violating picture of Mickey Mouse saying he smelled like rotten eggs, and the simple phrase “the most racist man alive” emblazoned on a simple T-shirt. This happened, in part,  because Twitter continues to have a huge bot problem. It’s gotten worse since Elon Musk took over the company.


The most recent fun started on June 9, when the account @dyingscribe retweeted a New York Post story with a comic from artist Raven Lyn Clemens. The comic depicts a woman talking to her boyfriend about a Salon article while the meathead man stares while wearing a shirt that says “the most racist man alive.” @dyingscribes’ post went viral and the replies are full of blue check mark bots who desperately want to sell people the racist man T-Shirt for around 20 bucks.

The T-shirt bots have been on Twitter for years. The bots watchTwitter, wait for the right set of keywords, then automatically set up a store page where they take money to generate a cheap print-on-demand T-Shirt for sale. Responding to a thread with key phrases like “I wish I had that on a shirt” or “custom T-Shirt” will summon the bots to a thread where they’ll generate a website where you can make a purchase.


Over the weekend, people decided to fuck with the bots. They did this by creating outrageous T-shirt designs and tricking the automated systems into generating T-Shirt designs that might get them in trouble. “Just saw someone wearing this t-shirt,” @MrTooDamnChris said above the  J.K. Rowling drunk driving shirt. “Where can you even buy a shirt like this?”

“They stole my design,” the account @blestboys, seemingly one of these bots, said in reply. “You must support the original.” 

The  J.K. Rowling shirt noted: “We are subject to British libel laws.” The link to the store where you can buy the shirt is still online. You can buy it for around $22. There’s a pink version for $26 and a hoodie for $40. 

A hunt through @blestboy’s replies showed all the most popular T-shirt jokes that rolled through Twitter over the weekend. There’s the Mickey Mouse rotten egg shirt, the racist man shirt, and a photo of comedian Patton Oswalt wearing a shirt that said “Believe women were killed by Patton Oswalt.”


Baiting bots into selling shirts that might get them in trouble is funny, but it also highlights a very real problem on Twitter. Artists who make a living selling their art, often on shirts and other merchandise, have been fighting these bots for years with no end in sight. 

“This has been a big pet peeve problem of mine for years with little attention paid to it,” Rory Blank, a cartoonist and shirt purveyor told Motherboard via DM. 

Blank avoids working corporate gigs or taking a lot of commissions by selling unique shirts. Those shirts are often immediately copied by T-Shirt bots. “My shirts are generally more successful than my comics,” he said. “I put a lot of work into new designs, but now putting new stuff up fills me with an overwhelming sense of dread. It’s extremely disheartening, to have put so much effort into something and see some dickhead come around and immediately copy it. This is most of my livelihood.”

Blank said he’s tried to fight the bots in various ways. He’s sent DMCA notices and even contacted lawyers. But he ruled out legal action because of the expense. “I don’t know if anyone’s actually buying the knockoffs either, or if it’s just something else that gets lost in the sea of constant spam that is most of being online,” he said. “Presumably they’re making some amount of money since most of the accounts doing it have paid verification now.”


His latest move to combat T-shirt theft is adding a unique watermark to the previews he shares online. His most recent work, includes the subscript “available at until June 18th.” 

Before Musk took over Twitter, he promised he would “defeat the spam bots or die trying!” and “authenticate all real humans.” The bots persist and now they’re verified. For $8 a month, someone running an account that steals art on Twitter can buy a check mark. According to Twitter, blue checks “will receive a boost that ranks them closer to the top,” which has made the T-Shirt accounts more noticeable than they were in the past.

Blank said the problem has gotten worse since Musk took over. “I can’t quantify if there are more shirt bots than there used to be, though it certainly feels like it, but what is demonstrably true is that they’re more visible now because of paid blue verification,” he said. “Blue subscriber responses get pushed to the top, so any time any of these accounts post stuff it goes straight to the top in front of everyone.” 

Musk didn’t defeat the bots, he gave them a place to thrive and charged them $8 a month for the privilege of annoying unpaid users “It’s pretty funny to think about in the abstract honestly,” Blank continued. “Musk’s claim was that paid blue verification would close the gap encourage more authentic users and that it would get rid of bot accounts, but it definitely looks like you can just pay money to create an account that isn’t connected in any meaningful way to a real person, and use it to malicious ends, and to get premium placing to do it.”

“It’s fun to see the extremely false claims being made about the platform being tested in front of everyone,” Blank said. “Of course I’m not sure it will have much impact since Elon Musk and his ardent supporters are really good at just pretending whatever shitty thing they’re doing or that results from his dumb decisions isn’t happening or is somehow good. I don’t expect him to react to this in any way beyond like, maybe a cry laughing emoji, or maybe him trying to get in on ‘the meme’ and trying to get shirts that say ‘all your base are belong to us’ or some other shit that stopped being funny 20 years ago.”

“Hopefully releasing the update this week,” Musk said in a reply to a complaint about DM bot spam on June 11. “As I’ve said many times, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between AI bots. Soon, it will be impossible. The only ‘social networks’ that survive will be those that require verification. The payment system is a means of verification that increases bot cost by ~10,000X.”

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.