Emoji worlds, imagined cities, and possible landscapes: The fleeting geographies of Twitter bots

Authors: Tim Highfield*, QUT Digital Media Research Centre
Topics: Social Geography
Keywords: digital media, internet spaces, geographic representation, emoji
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Balcony L, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The intervention of bots, automated Twitter accounts, into contemporary politics and news attracted attention in the wake of the 2016 US Presidential election, where ‘bot armies’ were used to spread incorrect information and artificially inflate candidate support. However, there are also genres of Twitter bots that are used for creative, original, and decidedly apolitical ends. Such bots draw upon the affordances and opportunities of Twitter to offer new interpretations of cultural phenomena.

This paper focuses on bots which employ emoji to generate geographic snapshots: imagined landscapes, scenery, and locations, situated within the confines of 140 characters. From the train journeys of the Trainsbotting account (@choochoobot) to the map sections of @emojiatlas and the various ‘tiny’ accounts showcasing cityscapes, islands, and gardens, these bots offer recurring visual interventions into the day-to-day tweets of a follower’s feed. Individually and collectively, they use emoji to represent the physical in infinite arrangements, following aesthetic logics in depicting disposable, transient landscapes.

This paper examines how these bots are underpinned by the ephemerality of digital media. While the posted landscapes are still accessible through the account’s history, the sensory attraction of these bots is in the haphazard viewing of the imagined geographies as they appear among other tweets: a forest scene alongside a breaking news headline, offering visual relief and an abstracted version of wanderlust. These are geographies of abandonment by design: idealized, simplified representations of space, stylized by Twitter’s renderings of emoji, yet disposable, generatively thrown into existence and then gone again.

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