Two days before real-life troll Milo Yiannopoulos would descend on UC Berkeley’s campus in September, Ash Bhat and Rohan Phadte were sizing up a railing partisan on Twitter from their college apartment.
Hovering over his laptop, Bhat explained why he suspected @PatriotJen was actually a bot, maybe even one controlled from Russia. He pointed to the kitschy patriotic header image ripe for a truck stop T-shirt: a bald eagle flying towards heavenly rays. The bio seemed a liberal’s cliche of a Trump supporter, “Deplorable mom, wife, & homeschooler,” complete with red-meat hashtags: @AmericaFirst #MAGA #LockHerUp #BuildTheWall. All her tweets were retweets: an anti-Hillary tweet from Julian Assange, sensational pro-life news, a gloating tweet (“BOOM!”) about federal immigration raids that will punish California for protecting undocumented immigrants. Moreover, @PatriotJen’s feed was filled with the toxically shrill tone replicated throughout Twitter—showing Americans to be a bratty, spiteful species, and driving people like me out of the bilious swamp. The language of bots.