As Cord Jefferson once wrote, the "racism beat" can get pretty exhausting. For a lot of progressives and activists, it's easy for Twitter to turn into an on-demand classroom where they're constantly bombarded with both sincere and disingenuous questions about racism—many of which have answers that are only a Google search away. It's particularly tiring for people of color, who not only deal with racism in their own lives, but are constantly asked to explain it again and again to seemingly endless streams of people on social media.
Enter Stay Woke Bot, a social media tool designed to help activists save time by providing automated answers to questions about racism and social justice. Created in collaboration with civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson, it's the first creation of Feel Train, a recently launched creative technology cooperative co-created by Darius Kazemi and Courtney Stanton (two friends of Offworld).
"While some activists focus on basic education, many activists concentrate elsewhere and don't have the time to perform this free labor," wrote Feel Train in their announcement. "Just as you wouldn't expect Neil DeGrasse Tyson to answer your high school physics questions on social media, you shouldn't expect an activist you saw on TV to answer your Sociology 101 questions."
Kazemi has gotten a lot of press over the last several years for his bots and generators, including a Harry Potter-inspired Sorting Bot, a headline remixer, Amazon Random Shopper, and an absurd chart creator. He and Stanton previously built 101-a-tron, a bot that uses keywords to send explanatory links to Twitter users.
In 2012, Courtney Stanton had the idea to build a bot that automates these 101-level interactions that were a constant presence in her feminist activism. I worked with her to build it, and the result was 101-a-tron, a bot that can be CC'ed on Twitter conversations with natural commands like "@101atron please tell @tinysubversions about cultural appropriation". The bot detects what you're asking for and then replies with a link within a couple of minutes.
Stay Woke Bot, which was inspired partly by a conversation between Kazemi and activist Mckesson at a technology conference, builds on the idea of the 101-a-tron but takes it a step further—and simplifies it. Because it draws on a customizable Google spreadsheet document, it requires little to no training to use, and makes it incredibly easy to customize the keywords and links that the bot uses to respond.
Although they will continue to provide technical support, Feel Train has handed off the bot to Mckesson and the activist group This Is the Movement, which will be responsible for the content moving forward. According to Stanton, the response from the larger world of social activism has been consistently positive, and Feel Train is currently talking with other organizations who want to use Stay Woke Bot as a template for social media tools of their own. "We're going to be open sourcing the code within the week, which hopefully will help get it into the hands of a lot more interested folks as well," says Stanton.