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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Human Behind a Favorite Spambot, Horse_eBooks

For months, the Internet was captivated by the mysterious and strangely poetic Twitter spam account Horse_ebooks. The account spat out comical snippets of speech, including: “Unfortunately, as you probably already know, people,” and the occasional link to a Web site advertising e-books about horses. It was an Internet phenomenon that spawned legions of fans, who created Web comics and jewelry devoted to memorializing its bizarre existence and even led to a hunt to unearth the people behind it.

On Tuesday, Jacob Bakkila, a 29-year-old artist and Buzzfeed employee and one of the creators behind the account, stepped forward to claim the account as his own, which he described as a “conceptual but performative” art piece.

“The idea was to perform as a machine,” he said in an interview on Monday. Mr. Bakkila said he first came across the account in 2011 and reached out to its original owner, a Russian named Alexei Kouznetsov, to inquire about taking over the account. Mr. Kouznetsov agreed and Mr. Bakkila said he has been operating it himself for the last two years, since September 2011.

So how does one perform as a spam bot? Relentlessly and tirelessly, said Mr. Bakkila. “The goal was not to appropriate the account but to become the account,” he said.

He mimicked the activity of a spam account, even occasionally tweeting links to the equestrian electronics books that the account was originally set up to try to sell. To create the odd non sequitur that the account became known for, he searched for articles on weight loss, bodybuilding and other types of self-improvement and self-help and skimmed them for material that he could tweet out at random intervals.

Horse_ebooks is Mr. Bakkila’s primary presence on social media. He said he has a Facebook account but that it’s more like “a phone book.”

The two-year project culminates in an art installation on Tuesday in a gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Beginning at 10 a.m., Mr. Bakkila and his collaborator, Thomas Bender, will be taking phone calls from people who want to hear them read excerpts from the Horse_ebooks account. They will also be showing off another installations, an interactive video art piece called Bear Stearns Bravo.