The concept of people typing Dadaist humor on Twitter has existed since Twitter got its first big batch of smart-ass users in 2007, at that year's SxSW. Twitter was suddenly the place to get breaking news on inconsequential online-media events. Also, it was full of banter and inside jokes and drunken jabbering. It became fun, because a lot of bored funny people now had a way to narrowcast every oddball thought to people who might appreciate that kind of nonsense.
Only last year did anyone refer to this as a certain thing, Weird Twitter. My own Twitter feed has always been weird, because I follow a lot of humorists and New York bloggers and alcoholics. There's something about the intentionally wrong style of idiotic comedy that makes me laugh like nothing else. "A little of that goes a long way," my comrade Alex Balk said when I showed him @Seinfeld2000, the surreal mirror to the much more popular @SeinfeldToday, which put the 1990s characters in today's barely changed world. But not for me. I laughed at every single tweet, sometimes to the point of actual tears.
Still, I prefer things to be weirder, so I kept looking for the portal to this alleged Weird Twitter and finally realized it was mostly stuff I already followed. My search for unintentional weirdness finally led me to a truly inexplicable Twitter, full of 'bots and coded messages and mysterious numbers that brings to mind the shortwave spy stations immortalized by the Conet Project. And why are so many of them scary?
The Iowa City Enigma
The enigma of "Iowa City schools ask state for an audit" was pointed out by @cjohnson319. These tweets just repeat that phrase, and the accounts don't appear to have any connection to Iowa City or its schools. The phrase is a headline from a story about auditing Iowa City's schools, found on the Quad City Times of September 1, 2011. The article has no comments and has not been shared on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. It's just sitting there, the apparent source of inspiration for endless tweets from far-flung accounts.
"Moriah Odonnell," for example, claims to be in Sao Vicente, which could be in Brazil or Portugal or an island near Cape Verde or probably a lot of other places with Portuguese place names. Moriah, if that is his or her real name, posts nothing but nonsense like this. It's not funny, and it's not intended to be funny. Of this user's six followers, two use Portuguese in their profile; one claims to be located in São Paulo, and also posts random phrases and quotations in multiple languages.
I think it's safe to say that Moriah Odonnell is a lonely spy under deep cover in some colonial hellhole. Either that or the random spew of a pointless botnet.
What does it mean when these accounts—seemingly spread all over the world—spit out this phrase about Iowa City schools? Is the drug plane about to land, somewhere? Has another priest been taken into custody and the militia activated?
Here are some of the 38 followers of an inscrutable account called @googuns_staging—many of these are obvious fraudulent accounts with randomly generated profiles such as, "I like Jonathan Richman/The Modern Lovers to listen and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The to watch. I'm brave and chivalrous." Well, of course you are!
GooGuns posts nothing but strings of letters and numbers, like b39e65fa00000000 in intervals of about five minutes on average. The string of characters always ends with zeroes, occasionally with the location service turned on, so you can see that 554705fa00000000 was allegedly tweeted from the "Region of Khabarovsk." This has been going on all day and all night, for years, with more than 318,000 tweets posted since 2009. But why?
There is an iOS game called GooGun with its own website and a dubious iTunes graphic with the words "No Longer Available" over it. "Space robots are attacking," says the promotional video showing game play on this game that is not available to play. Space robots … and they're attacking? Are those GooGun staging numbers and letters a hint to where they're attacking? Also, is there a new street drug called Space Robots? Because if there is, this may be a window into the international trafficking in that terrible scourge of modern society.
The greatest Intelligence Agency use of Twitter that never really happened is @US_CIA, a remarkable account that posted plausible Langley public notices that became noticeably stranger over time. Eventually it was claiming 30% of all CIA employees were LGBT and/or First Nation and tweeting directly to @khamenei_ir, Iran's ayatollah.
Washington Post intel reporter Greg Miller asked the CIA about the account, which immediately vanished.
These were jokes meant for people with inside knowledge of the CIA—jokes about hiring practices and the fact that Mormons are seen as good recruits because of their clean living. Whether the person behind this account was inside or outside the agency is another mystery: When you're dealing with international espionage, a parody Twitter account can also be psychological warfare.
Whether failed spambots or coded espionage messages or political propaganda, an interesting fact about these bizarre Twitter accounts is that programmers don't seem to know what's up, either. Comments on Slashdot and HackerNews show a huge variety of opinion as to what these things are and what they may be attempting to accomplish.
Maybe it's all nothing. Just don't ever tweet "BEETLEJUICE BEETLEJUICE BEETLEJUICE!"
Photo by Antlio, via Shutterstock.