“Haven’t gotten a bot yet? Join today!” is the slogan used by rep.licants.org (2011) to invite new users to its web service. The platform created by Beijing-based Swiss designer and technologist Matthieu Cherubini offers people to improve their virtual selves and build their social reputation with more followers in social networks with the support of their own replicant.
By registering, users agree to the installation of a botnet on their Facebook or Twitter account. The artificial intelligence of the bot slips into the role of the user as a virtual prosthesis. By analysis of previous behaviour and preferences, it begins to create new posts, to network with other users and create dynamic links to other social networks, which it searches for compatible content. The website thus promises to help shy people gain more visibility and recognition within social networks. After an unexpectedly high response from over 5,000 users and complaints from Facebook, the project had to be discontinued in 2014.
Bots are no longer just the prerogative of shy users seeking to boost their social recognition, but used to promote tangible commercial interests, and are subject to rigorous punitive measures from social network operators. The potential of their use, which here as often remains undiscovered over long periods of time, demonstrates the fragility of social networks under the control of constantly evolving algorithms, whose underlying parameters remain hidden from users.
(Text: Bettina Back)
Matthieu Cherubini is a designer / technologist from Switzerland based in Beijing. He studied software engineering and media / interaction design at HEAD-Genèva. Before moving to China, he participated in a PhD project in the Design Interactions Department at the Royal College of Art, dedicated to the exploration of the impact of artificial intelligence on our domestic and everyday lives, both in the present and near future. Cherubini continues a similar kind of design research with the collective automato.farm, which he co-founded.