Who’s That Woman In The Twitter Bot Profile?

From Fast Company:

After weeks of trying, I’d nearly found the real person behind a Twitter bot. It wasn’t the person who started the bot–chances are, that was just a computer program. Instead, I was hunting for the woman in the profile picture, the person whose identity had been stolen. The Internet is a big place; this isn’t easy to do. But I’d tracked the photo of a short-haired, punkish 20-something–used by @Arnitamj5, a bot calling itself Arnita Barayuga–to an abandoned MySpace profile of a Dallas woman named Elizabeth. She didn’t seem to have any other Internet presence, but I found one of her old MySpace friends on Facebook, figured out that he worked at a Dallas bike shop, and called it.

“So, listen,” I told him. “This will be the weirdest call you’ll get today.”

“Today?” he said.

“Probably all month.”

Then I explained: My goal was to draw a straight line from a Twitter bot to the real, live person whose face the bot had stolen. In the daily bot wars–the one Twitter fights every day, causing constant fluctuations in follower counts even as brands’ followers remain up to 48% bot–these women are the most visible and yet least acknowledged victims. And it’s almost always women, isn’t it? Bots are like a sorority party at 3 a.m.–a massive compilation of young, pretty faces who talk a lot of nonsense. But the women they portray are actual people, somewhere in this world. Who are they? And how were their photos dislodged from their original place?

This is a mostly pointless exercise, I knew: The story behind every photo would be different. And what would one of these women say–that she’s flattered to find her face spamming everyone on Twitter? Clearly, no. But it seemed worth doing, if only to tell one story, to have one answer. So I asked Elizabeth’s old friend: Did he still know her? He did, he said, though she’s since gotten married and changed her name. He promised to pass my message along. After four days of silence, though, I did more sleuthing and found her on Facebook under her married name. Then I emailed my plea: You’ve become a bot, Elizabeth. Can we talk about it?

Silence. Can’t say I blame her.

So I started over.

Continue reading the rest of the story on Fast Company