“If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Many people are familiar with that expression, but it’s one thing to know it and another to heed it. Which is why the Internet gave a collective yawp of despair after Susan Orlean unveiled a shocking(ish) revelation in the New Yorker: @Horse_ebooks, the beloved surrealist spambot spewing oddly profound nonsense, was not the result of a sublime Internet singularity. No. It was just two freaking Buzzfeed employees.
Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender, the account’s human masterminds, are currently stationed at the Fitzroy Gallery on the Lower East Side, answering questions about the project, which they’ve worked on for four years. They took the account from a Russian e-books seller in 2011. At the exhibit, a sign explains the project, noting “On September 14, 2011, Jacob Bakkila began the conceptual art installation Horse_ebooks. He has since performed, in secret, as a spambot on the social network Twitter, posting a piece of spam roughly every two hours for 742 days. Each spam fragment is a recycled information; an often-incomplete snippet of text drawn from a previously published work, occasionally including a link to a website selling low-quality self-help ebooks.”
In addition to helming @Horse_ebooks, the men also created YouTube sensation Pronunciation Book, which also spewed strangely compelling and supposedly automated gibber-wisdom. They’re revealing their identities and moving on to the next phase of their art project, an interactive video piece called Bear Sterns Bravo. And since Bakkila and Bender are shifting their focus, this means @Horse_ebooks and Pronunciation Book are dead.
They tweeted out the address and phone number of the exhibit today.
(213) 444 0102
— Horse ebooks (@Horse_ebooks) September 24, 2013
According to Gawker, Bakkila and two others (including, possibly, Susan Orlean) are answering phones and reading lines aloud from the Twitter account in the back room. When I called, one of the men read out: “There are many different kinds of exercises that fit under the aerobic category.” Not exactly one of the account’s best tweets, though it was interesting to hear the creator read it aloud.
And while @Horse_ebooks and Pronunciation Book were separately managed projects most of the time, today it became obvious they were related:
The rococo koans of @Horse_ebooks inspired an enthusiastic fan base, so of course the Internet was perturbed over these revelations.
who wants to get matching RIP Horse_ebooks prison tats
— preston (@prestonrichey) September 24, 2013
*PLAYS DAFT PUNK’S “HUMAN AFTER ALL” ON BAGPIPES* RIP @HORSE_EBOOKS ILU :((((((
— Jen (@jennybisdead) September 24, 2013
The fact that @Horse_ebooks was both a buzzfeed ruse AND tied to the pronunciation guide hoax makes me hate the future of the internet.
— R. Bryant Francis (@RBryant2012) September 24, 2013
Others saw it coming or were pleased with the reveal:
That @Horse_ebooks is still going strong is utterly fascinating. One of the strangest long cons in internet history.
— Derek Mead (@derektmead) September 7, 2013
Aren’t you happier horse ebooks is human? Idiots. Also I thought we already knew this
— SarahNicolePrickett (@snpsnpsnp) September 24, 2013
Really, this should come as absolutely no surprise. We’ve all seen Catfish. Today we are all Manti T’eo and @Horse_ebooks, our weird oracle Internet lover, has come clean. Things on the Internet that appear to be inexplicably marvelous are rarely so. And even though it was a bummer to learn that Santa Claus wasn’t real and you don’t believe your mom when she insists that there is still such a thing as “the spirit of Christmas,” it’s still super fun to get time off work and drink Egg Nog. So buck up. Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because Everything Happens so much.