It began out as a little bit of a joke. In June 2018, a consumer on a now-banned subreddit made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion about making a bot —an automatic account that might name out racists by going by their put up historical past and tallying up the variety of racial slurs that they had used.
Somebody virtually instantly went away and constructed it. Inside a number of hours of seeing the put up, a Reddit consumer referred to as ‘ogkushmonster’ had began engaged on a bot to serve precisely that operate. “I had simply completed an introductory programming class at school and thought it will be a comparatively simple bot to make to enhance my new coding expertise and that it will be humorous to truly make it,” says the 23-year-old from Michigan who doesn’t wish to be named.
It was referred to as ‘nwordcountbot’—and it could possibly be summoned by any Reddit consumer to offer a rely of the variety of occasions every other consumer had used the racial slur. All they needed to do was tag the bot, together with the username they wished to examine in a remark, and the bot would rapidly reply with the knowledge. The bot is one among quite a few instruments that Reddit customers have been using to combat again in opposition to hate speech on-line.
“Getting the bot up and operating was fairly simple and solely took a number of hours. Bettering the bot in order that it might reply to feedback virtually immediately, preserve a database of all of the customers it investigated and feedback it replied to, and run on a server for months at a time with out crashing took far more studying and energy,” says the creator.
It was an enormous hit. The bot exploded in reputation, swiftly breaking out past its extra fringe subreddits into larger ones like r/youngsters. By Could 2020, it had been summoned greater than 190,000 occasions, and counted 1.7 million makes use of of the n-word from 120,000 completely different customers. One consumer, now banned, had used it greater than 300,000 occasions. “I used to be shocked that it received so standard. I feel that some folks considered it as a worthwhile software for combating racism, whereas different folks thought it was humorous to see how a lot they might spam the n phrase,” says ogkushmonster. “There was one thing for everyone.”
The bot had a comparatively brief life. Three months in the past, citing the price of the servers required to run the bot, its creator determined to close it down. “I by no means anticipated the bot to get so standard however I am glad that you simply all favored it a lot, from the chapos [members of r/ChapoTrapHouse, a now-banned subreddit associated with a left-wing podcast] utilizing it to cancel folks to the edgy youngsters competing to see who might say probably the most n phrases,” they commented on a Reddit put up asserting the bot’s departure.
However there was clearly a requirement for the service. And so, in June 2020, a brand new bot—wordscounterbot appeared as its “formally endorsed” successor. The brand new bot has been summoned virtually 1,000 occasions in three months—generally to make a degree throughout arguments about policing in America or politics, however usually simply as a joke. “Individuals often use it once they see somebody say one thing “suspicious,” says its creator, alashow. “There are additionally imbeciles that spam feedback the n phrases by commenting on spam posts to get a excessive ‘nwordcountbot rating’.”
In addition to bots, redditors have additionally constructed browser extensions that may assist them establish suspicious customers. The ‘masstagger’ extension for Chrome and Firefox was created two years in the past by a consumer referred to as ‘morpen’—constructing on a earlier model that had been round since 2013. “In some unspecified time in the future, I discovered myself baited into an argument solely to seek out out that my opponent was an lively member of a number of (literal) Nazi subs,” they write on their web site, explaining the genesis of the extension, which applies a colored tag to members of sure ‘hate subreddits’ who could also be engaged in so-called ‘concern trolling.’ That is the place customers deliberately troll different subreddits by pretending to agree with their viewpoint, however then participating in unhealthy religion and subtly undermining points of their arguments.