The Radical Right Research Robot is back with a vengeance (for now)

Since 2018, the Radical Right Research Robot has been my pride and joy. For those who have never encountered it, the bot was/is a tangle of amateurish scripts that tweeted/tweets about randomly selected references taken from the Bibliography on the Extreme Right in Western Europe every few hours. In other words, it is serendipity as a service and as such the crown of my achievements. It currently has some 1,800 followers on Twitter, which is probably a good chunk of the international community interested in this kind of research.

All this changed last year, when evil Elon Musk took over Twitter and tried to monetise access to the API on which the Radical Right Research Robot relies. Like many other hobbyist projects, the bot could continue for a while, was suddenly cut off, then, after some manual intervention, briefly reinstated. And then, in July 2023, it suddenly stopped working for good.

I lost some afternoons that should have been used in a more productive fashion trying to resurrect my baby. You see, the problem is that I’m really not a programmer. Also, the bot relied on an R package that had not been updated since 2015, and the documentation of the changes at Twitter (as well as the terms and conditions for those unwilling or unable to pay E. M. $$$) was somewhat murky.

A new package (in its latest development version, when coupled with another package in one of its development versions) looked promising, but its published documentation is (still) not fully updated. People on Stack Exchange and GitHub left tantalising hints and plausible code fragments, but I simply could not get it to work, not even in its most basic form that would have required me to manually click a button every two hours (seriously?).

The Radical Right Research Robot is back (for now)

But today, I had a brilliant idea: I removed a trailing slash that the instructions explicitly required, and got at least some functionality back. Then, things started to fall into place. Several hours (and a dozen lines of stolen code) later, it looks like I may have brought back the bot from its digital graveyard.

As people are still leaving Twitter for other platforms, I also took the opportunity to branch out a bit: thanks to the wonderful (if, to me, mysterious) touitomamout, the bot’s tweets are now cross-posted not just to Mastodon but also to Bluesky. While the gateway to Mastodon seems to work well, tweets with an attached image are currently not reliably propagated to Bluesky. This may change, or maybe not.

Of course, there is a massive caveat. For scraping Twitter, touitomamout builds on an unofficial API that may be gone the moment Musk realises it exists. The official API on which the bot itself relies may change in sudden and unpredictable ways. The free tier may evaporate without notice. Attaching images requires additional access to the old Twitter API, which may disappear, and a function in rtweet that is already marked as deprecated. You get the picture.

But for the moment, everything seems to work most of the time. Enjoy it while it lasts. Live wild and dangerously. Follow the bot, on Twitter, Mastodon, or Bluesky.

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