Finally, There's a Social Network Without Any People

Botnet is a social media app without people. Perfect.
18 February 2020, 8:30am
GettyImages-740521103
Image: Getty Images

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Ever wanted to post something to social media just for the cheap, dopamine-fueled thrill of seeing a stream of favs and comments, but not risk interacting with a real human being? Botnet, a social media simulation for iOS where you're the only human in a sea of bots, might be just what you need.

When you download the app, you enter a fantasy world where you're the most popular user—and only non-bot—on a social network. It feels like a blend of the big three apps: the overall layout of Facebook, the commenting system of Instagram, and the anarchy of Twitter. While it feels real enough when you're posting about your cat or the weather, Botnet's views on politics are baffling, though not moreso than a particularly obsessed Twitter rando.

According to the makers of the app, when you post, all the comments are made by bots trained on thousands of "real conversations." For a dollar each, you can buy bots that will troll you or make dad jokes. It's deeply refreshing in some ways. All the minutiae that I post about is treated like the most fascinating and mind blowing content to this army of bots. I love being popular.

Posting about my cat or my boyfriend yielded an eerily accurate facsimile of what happens when I post something stupid on social media. Bots in the replies to both pictures said "great pic!" or posted the "100" emoji. In general, Botnet's use of emojis is stellar. Just like on Instagram or Twitter, the first replies I get to any post are the same emojis people use to get in their first reply—stars, crying laughing faces, and hearts.

Some of the replies were so convincing, I reached out to Billy Chasen, artist and creator of Botnet, to ask if there were any real users on the app other than myself. The company told Motherboard that it uses GPT-2, an algorithm created by OpenAI, and trained it on "millions of internet comments."

"Everything they write is original and based on training," Chasen said.

When I posted about politics on Botnet, things got weirder.

Botnet functions basically like a diary. While the bots give you the impression of there being interaction, you're actually just writing down your thoughts in a closed system that no one but yourself will see. What I do in my real life diary is try to decompress and untangle my stresses, and on Tuesday, February 11, one of my greatest stresses is the New Hampshire primary election. I wrote in Botnet, "Bernie Sanders will be victorious in New Hampshire." Instead of hearts and smiley faces, one of the first replies I got was "The Democratic Party will not abandon Marianne Williamson." The bots, it seems, have some pretty wild political opinions.

From there, I started to test more general political opinions. By this point I had paid a buck to get some troll bots, which have red hued icons. When I mentioned socialism, they all insisted I'd be better off volunteering.

A picture of the Botnet feed with comments like

When I said that socialism is the only path to an ethical society, one of my bots attributed the quote, hilariously, to JFK.

A picture of the Botnet feed, where a bot attributes the quote

The friendly bots didn't really understand what I meant when I wrote, "workers of the world unite," but the troll bots were right on cue with telling me that queer people should go fuck themselves.

A picture of the Botnet feed with comments like

It's incredible not just how deranged these bots are, but how much like real social media these replies are. I've had exchanges like these with real human beings on Twitter, confusing anger and Marianne Williamson stanning included. That said, Botnet did generate a comment leagues funnier than anything I've seen on Twitter when I've tried to talk politics:

New Hampeeeeeeee!

New Hampee, indeed.