In our post-meme culture, context is the enemy of humour, and so, the enemy of the meme. Sometimes, it’s up to the shitposters to preserve the meme’s endangered absurdism. People have been juxtaposing meme tropes for ages (not just in the wake of Harambe, as some people think), but the great boon to internet nonsense has been the rise of bots. Its shining star is ShitpostBot 5000.
“[Memes] certainly mean less… People make them faster, and with less thought,” the 19-year-old creator of ShitpostBot 5000, who asked to be identified only as “Botmin”, told Gizmodo over Facebook Messenger. “One of my favourite pages posted a picture of the Guitar Hero controller for Wii, and that was it. It made me laugh, and I cannot explain why.”
The site’s 1000+ users submit templates and images of memes, and SPB — coded from scratch in PHP — combines and posts them without rhyme or reason, every half hour, to Facebook, as it’s been doing for over a year.
When intentionally bad posts purposefully devoid of any identifiable message or context are the peak of contemporary internet humour, a bot simply does it better.
A bot that makes memes serves a few important purposes. Most obviously, it’s faster than a human. Even if only 20 per cent of what SPB posts is funny, at nearly 50 posts a day that’s still more “good” content than most people can make. It has the capacity to surprise, because it has no understanding of what it’s doing, and as Botmin put it, “I don’t want to make the AI any smarter, and I’m sure the fans feel the same way.”
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, it creates distance from intention. While some of SPB’s posts might draw ire for being inane, offensive or otherwise problematic, because it’s the work of an unthinking bot working with anonymous submissions, we can laugh at its foibles.
There is a secret lurking behind the bot’s astonishing output — SPB isn’t entirely automated. Its creator vets the submissions before they make it into the hundreds-deep pool of useable photos or templates. “There are 8500 source images and 1934 templates I haven’t even looked at yet,” Botmin said.
Botmin claims to have been unaware of the larger bot-building community, though even if he created SPB independently it lives in good company. It bears striking resemblance to Nora Reed’s Tumblr Simulator in particular which, while text- rather than image-based, relies on a similar system of user submissions to generate baffling and hilarious phrases, largely comprehensible only to Tumblr users.
Botmin hinted at improvements to the template design and some sort of game in the future, but with 1,049,506,955,225,738,728,474,196,978,505,351,168 possible combinations — as estimated by the site — even if Botmin were to abandon the project tomorrow, ShitpostBot could continue reconstituting ancient memes after the sun is expected to burn out, furiously dumping them on a long-abandoned social platform for other bots to like and share, without humans around to ruin them.