In Sight

Random Tweets of Kindness

How a robot sends positivity through the Twitterverse.

What a NiceBot—The cheerful spambot sends randomly generated compliments to randomly selected Twitter users every 36 second to spread positivity. Photo: The Washington Post.


by Caitlin Gibson
FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

In the midst of the cold digital landscape, so often flooded with hateful comments and cutting insults, there now exists a little blue-faced robot who wants you to know that you are “more amazing than fresh towels from the dryer.”

Meet the Twitter “NiceBot,” a cheerful spambot that blurts a small dose of positivism into the Twitterverse every 36 seconds by matching a randomly generated compliment with a randomly selected Twitter user.

@AmazingCinta I have a robot cavity, because you are so sweet. #TheNiceBot

@OURHONEYFROOT Supernovas wish they were as bright as your smile. #TheNiceBot

Some even sound slightly . . . “more than friends.”

@Lili_140803 My processors overheat when I think about how great you are. #TheNiceBot

@ERlNxx Just thinking about you sends a positive surge through my circuits. #TheNiceBot

The NiceBot was launched Oct. 1, 2015, with the mission to “make the world a nicer place, one tweet at a time.” So far, it has sent 52,000 tweets and attracted about 4,200 followers. It’s programmed to eventually reach all 300 million Twitter users, a task that would take more than three centuries to accomplish (optimistically assuming that Twitter will still be a thing in the 2300s).

Alexandra Penn, founder of Champions Against Bullying, said that the organization, which works with kids, parents and educators in the U.S. and Canada, wanted to do something different to draw attention to online toxicity.

“We wanted to combat the negativity of bullying with something more positive,” Penn said in a statement introducing the NiceBot.

At best, the NiceBot might be a helpful way to spread awareness of cyberbullying. At worst, it’s a harmless, feel-good gimmick—but it isn’t likely to do much to alleviate hostile behavior online, said Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and a professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University.

Nevertheless, he said, he commends Champions Against Bullying “at least a little bit for trying to do something novel, trying to do something that’s a little bit innovative to spread positivity and make kindness go viral.”

Cyberbullying is devastating, particularly for kids and teens, because it feels so personal, he said. “When you think of somebody who says something kind, it doesn’t feel like spam because there’s a personal touch there— a person smiles, it’s warm,” Hinduja says.

Plenty of people seem to appreciate it: It’s “a nice way to start the day,” noted one pleased Twitter user. And even if the NiceBot can’t possibly do much to make the digital landscape a safer or kinder place, it might inspire other, more effective or innovative ideas, said Hinduja.

“Instead of handing out a bracelet or a sticker, [Champions Against Bullying] is using programming to tap into social media networks in order to do something creative,” he said. “So I think that might be the take-home point.”

Despite an uphill battle, the Nicebot tweets on in the cynical cyberspace—a relentless digital cheerleader, trying again every 36 seconds.

@Xzeynep_beyzaxx Thanks for just being you. #TheNiceBot

Caitlin Gibson is a feature writer at The Washington Post.