A great war is waging on Twitter as NFT platforms meet their all-powerful match: the humble T-shirt bot. If you’re unfamiliar with Twitter, it’s likely you’ve never come across these accounts — they’re fairly innocuous most of the time, but as soon as you post artwork or even mention the term ‘T-shirt’, they come out of the woodwork like mice.
The phrase “I want this on a shirt” actually went viral on Twitter a few months ago as users cottoned onto the unique bot practice of stealing artwork by searching key phrases and having it printed on T-shirts. Users discovered that when they mentioned they liked a piece of art online, a bot account would usually clone the work and immediately upload it to popular T-shirt printing websites like RedBubble or Society6.
PLEASE RT: Never, ever, EVER respond to someone’s art on Twitter saying you want a shirt with that art. Bot accounts will cue into that and then pirate the artwork. This then becomes a nightmare for the artist to get the bootleg merchandise taken down. PLEASE SHARE.
— Schamberger Labs (@robschamberger) December 1, 2019
Once Twitter users realised how the process worked, the phrase was deployed rather skilfully to tempt bots into infringing the copyright of major companies and revealing they stole art on a public forum.
It worked spectacularly, and several bots ended up stealing shirts with printed phrases like “This site sells stolen artwork” and “pwease sue us daddy Disney”.
Now, the technique is being used to counter the growth of NFTs.
The whole appeal of NFTs is that they’re unique. Each token is produced in a limited amount, designed to create an artificial scarcity that makes them desirable for collectors. The idea of having the ‘only one’ of an item is what attracts buyers and what pushes prices of NFTs to skyrocket, despite their intangibility.
But what happens when someone deploys the phrase “I want this on a shirt” for a unique NFT?
Well, it’s not exactly unique anymore, is it?
— ???? Honeydew Wolf ???? (@Honeydew_Wolf) October 3, 2021
The environmental toll of NFTs has rubbed many creators and artists the wrong way. The phenomenal, outlandish prices they fetch are also baffling — and in addition to this, the lack of NFT regulation and oversight means copyright is also a major concern for artists. (There have been several instances of stolen art being sold as NFTs.)
These factors are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to NFTs, but they’re not the only reason why T-shirt bots are being deployed to lambast NFT sales. As Twitter user Honeydew Wolf points out, their bot experiment reveals a major issue with the way NFTs are marketed and sold.
“I’m demonstrating the ridiculousness of paying over $US200k for what is supposed to be an exclusive, “non-fungible”, one of a kind token that in reality is an ugly jpeg that can easily be stolen by bots to be mass sold on tee-shirts,” they wrote on Twitter.
In this case, the power of the T-shirt bot has been subverted for good, rather than evil. And like Honeydew Wolf says, the process reveals the core absurdity behind NFTs: that anything can be cloned and the idea of actually ‘owning’ an NFT isn’t as simple as it sounds.
The lesson here is that as long as NFT platforms continue to put out artwork (whether official or stolen by copyright-infringing sellers), T-shirt bots will be around to remind everybody who’s boss. If you think your work is unique and special, the T-shirt bots are here to laugh in your face.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, but in a world where NFTs continue to go unregulated, this is one online war that’s just objectively very funny.