What @Horse_ebooks Taught Us About Social Media

The @Horse_ebooks Twitter account, known for its robotic tone and cult following, was revealed to be quite human last week.

It turns out that Thomas Bender and BuzzFeed employee Jacob Bakkila ran the seemingly incoherent Twitter stream for two years after purchasing the account from its original owner, Alexey Kouznetsov, in 2011. Since then, the account has made a massive impact on the internet: it has 220,524 followers, and has inspired content across multiple online channels.

Now that the veil has been torn away, the full significance of the completed conceptual art piece is evident. It was the granddaddy of anonymous Twitter accounts, and it show us how our generation relates to social media.

While Horse_ebooks will be missed in the Twitterverse, it’s far from being the only anonymous account with enigmatic tweets and a devoted following. In a media world where search engine optimization (SEO) and hashtags are all-important, these accounts ignore the rules and still get serious attention.

Take @dangled, for example, one of my favorite accounts. From what I’ve gleaned from the tweets, the account appears to be run by a female college student who lives in Canada. Her tweets are poetic, vulnerable, funny, and enigmatic in turn. The same goes for accounts like @plantandmineral, @petfurniture, @beehivesy, and the list could go on.

The fascinating thing about these accounts is that they are almost purely content driven. They garner followers on the strength of their original thoughts and thoughtful phrasing. These accounts don’t give a damn about SEO or trending topics. They don’t market themselves. Hashtags are occasionally used, but usually in a wry or tongue-in-cheek fashion. These anonymous accounts break every rule — and still earn thousands of followers.

@Dangled, for example, recently passed 6,000 followers. That number might not sound too high compared with @Horse_ebooks. But @dangled is following less than 300 people. The same goes for @petfurniture, which has an impressive following of nearly 11,000 while following only about 400. Talk about a golden ratio.

The anonymous accounts, many of which are apparently run by college students, illustrate how growing up with technology has blurred the line between communication and art for millennials. Twitter began as a social network, but it has become an outlet for self-expression and creativity, arguably even more so than Facebook.

As a millennial, I’ve become increasingly at ease with expressing myself through technology. My Twitter reflects what I’m thinking and feeling. If I’m happy, sad, worried, or excited, my tweets will likely show it, and I’ll even send out a subtweet once in a while.

Blending public and private lives, accounts like @dangled and @beehivesy show just how comfortable millennials are with creatively sharing their thoughts online. Online expression is not a fundamentally self-absorbed act, as many critics have claimed. It can be comiserative or cathartic rather than selfish, and provocative rather than banal. The anonymous tweets allow their creators to be completely honest and vulnerable about what they’re feeling, and the mercurial nature of the Twitter stream can give users a well-rounded yet mysterious view of other users.

So while one beloved Twitter account is no more, take heart, @Horse_ebooks fans. I’m sure you can find another poetic/esoteric/fateful account to follow. In Horse_ebooks’ own words, “Everything happens so much.”