When the parody gets real

If you are not Spaniard you might not be aware of this but we have a very unpopular Minister of Education, José Ignacio Wert… and we are going to vote a new government in a few weeks! So as you could expect a lot of “hackers” are trying to get José Ignacio Wert’s Twitter account. But they are not only trying to get @jiwert account but also @wert account, which is, indeed, mine.

How did I get that Twitter handle? Why does it tweet so much? What the hell does it say? Well, today I’ll answer all those questions, so let’s start with a brief review of the past…

A brief review of the past

Approximately a year ago I was taking a course on information retrieval. We did study some interesting algorithms and weighting techniques but we also did funny stuff just to break the ice. One of those funny things was a random text generator.

The main idea was: is it possible to generate new sentences starting from an excerpt of a book? What about an entire book? The generator was simple enough to be ported to other languages easily so I rewrote what I did for the classes in Python to Objective-C and launched an App for that: Wise Monkey.

I had to somehow make the App social so it engaged more users. I thought about it and finally came up with the following idea: wouldn’t it be nice if a Twitter user replied you when you share one of those random sentences there? No sooner said than done: I got @wisemonkeyapp handle on Twitter and then wrote a small JavaScript application that replied to any mention with a new random sentence, as well as tweeted a random sentence on an hourly basis. Pretty straightforward.

So to sum up, I have a script to generate random sentences given a large text and a Twitter bot capable of replying tweets and also tweeting hourly. Nice!

Getting @wert

A thing I realized during the next few months was that Wise Monkey was capable of generating new sentences that actually made sense so I thought that maybe if I used as input the transcriptions of government’s public sessions it could generate those kind of “empty” sentences politicians used a lot to skip embarrassing questions. More or less at the same time I discovered that a friend of mine had @wert Twitter handle but he was not using it and the real Wert had a different Twitter handle (@jiwert).

So I had the perfect handle to start a parody account of @jiwert, and the software to run it so… let’s give it a try! And I gave it a try, indeed.

Reactions to the parody

Someone trying to recover @wert data

Someone trying to recover @wert data

To be honest I didn’t expected any kind of reaction to the parody. Wise monkey was on the App Store for some months and I didn’t get so many downloads so I just expected something similar: some friends will retweet funny sentences but that’s all.

First thing I noticed was the amount of times people tried to steal the account. The password in one of those automatically generated 30 characters strings without any kind of logic or meaning so I don’t expect brute force approach to work. The attackers thought like me so they constantly try to “recover” my password, resulting in a very long list of emails from Twitter. So far no one has been able to steal this account.

Today I got more emails than usual, and thinking about how near the elections are I decided to check whether someone tried to tell something important to @wert and what I saw left me without words.

There are…

Tweets full of hatred

Tweets of people that actually thought the parody was real

People who I don’t understand why mentioned @wert

Political parties

People who didn’t understand what was happening:

People who speak Spanish and didn’t understand what was happening!

People who tried to buy the handle…

… and didn’t understand what was happening!

People who actually got it!

Bots looking for followers and retweets…

… and getting very confused

And even some bot-to-bot interaction I unintentionally triggered (yes, @wireyrion is another parody account):

Any other question remaining? Let me know in the comments!