Opinion

Spambot by any other name: the Jon Ronson ‘infomorph’ – and ‘brand management’ allegations

Adland guru Dave Trott challenges the 'technological evangelists' and urges brands to choose to spend their money on 'people who think the world is all about people' rather than 'people who think the world is all about algorithms'

Dave Trott

Jon Ronson is a journalist, author, and documentary filmmaker.

He talks about the time he found someone else using his identity on Twitter.

The first tweet he read was as follows:

“Going home, got to get the recipe for guarana and mayonnaise in a bap – yummy”

Ronson tweeted back “Who are you?”

In answer, he got the following:

“Watching Seinfeld, I would love a big plate of celeriac and sour cream kebab with lemongrass #foodie”

He didn’t know what to make of it, and next morning they’d tweeted, as him, “I’m thinking about time and cock”

Being a journalist, he traced the source of the fake twitter account.

Luke Robert Mason

He found it was a spambot created by an academic, from Warwick University, called Luke Robert Mason.

Jon Ronson asked him to please take his name and photograph off the spambot.

Mason said it wasn’t ‘a spambot’ it was ‘an infomorph’.

Jon Ronson asked what the difference was.

Mason replied it was for “repurposing social media data into an infomorphic aesthetic.”

Jon Ronson asked him to stop.

Luke Robert Mason said he was willing to meet and discuss it, on camera, with two other academics present.

The one who did most of the talking was Dr. Dan O’Hara.

He said “We don’t think you’re saying you want to maintain your integrity as the real Jon Ronson. We think there’s already a layer of artifice there, and what you’re saying is it’s your online personality, the brand Jon Ronson, that you’re trying to protect.”

Jon Ronson asked them to please just stop using his name.

Dr Dan O’Hara

Dr Dan O’Hara said “This is bizarre, you must be one of the very few people I’ve ever come across who’ve chosen to come on Twitter and use their own name as their Twitter name. I don’t know anyone who does that and that’s why I’m suspicious of your motives. That’s why I say I think you’re using it as brand management, that’s why you’re using your own name.”

Again Jon Ronson asked them to please just stop using his name.

Dr Dan O’Hara said “That’s bizarre, I find it psychologically interesting. There’s an uncanny sense of aggression as if you’d like to kill the algorithm, so you must feel threatened by it in some way.”

What I found strange was the way two different realities collided.

In Jon Ronson’s reality it was wrong to use his name without his agreement.

Jon Ronson

In the academics’ reality there was something suspicious about using your own name on Twitter.

In their world no one used their own name on Twitter so it must not be normal behaviour.

Wanting to use your own name must be significant of something weird.

This is part of my problem with technological evangelists.

They think everything starts with technology and people are merely passive recipients.

Whereas in my world everything starts with people, and technology is just a tool to communicate.

If you’re a client, you have to choose who you want to trust to spend your money.

People who think the world is all about algorithms.

Or people who think the world is all about people.

Dave Trott is a consultant, author and former ad agency creative director. This article was first published on his blog

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