The vast majority of the content on Twitter is some combination of disposable, confrontational, and aggravating. I rarely find myself thirsting for more 280-character dispatches from CNN talking heads or disgraced podcast hosts or Marvel Cinematic Universe actors, all of whom seem to have taken up permanent residence on the top of my besotted For You page. The platform is frequently infected by barely legible discourse engineered by a slew of tactically tiresome pundit-cum-influencers, and its new steward, Elon Musk, has oriented his entire leadership praxis around boosting right-wing grievance accounts. When I express these complaints to my offline acquaintances, they usually ask me what society is really losing if Twitter continues to die a slow, embarrassing death. It’s a great question, and I’ve only come up with one good answer: accounts like @PossumsEveryHour.
The name tells the whole story. For almost five years, @PossumsEveryHour has automatically uploaded an image of an intrepid possum lurking under a mossy wood, sifting through the garbage, or squealing in abject horror to the Twitter milieu at the top of every hour, like the bells of San Marco Square. The account uses some basic third-party botting software to ensure that the marsupials arrive in an unbroken sequence without necessitating any human input—4 a.m., 2 p.m., Christmas, or Thanksgiving—it doesn’t matter, the possums spring eternal. @PossumsEveryHour has gathered over 500,000 followers, which puts it near the top of a wide field of niche bots—like the one that reposts Sylvia Plath passages, or the one that relays home-run data—which each provide a welcome respite from the churning derangement of the mother platform. “What’s happening?” Twitter asks. Mercifully, nothing. We’re just looking at some possums as the world wobbles off its axis.
Alas, Elon Musk has made it his life’s work to launch a long, attritional war against his newly purchased social media brand, and last week, his regime announced that accessing Twitter’s API—something required for, among other things, basic bot functionality—would cost a premium to its users going forward. (The exact details of both the pricing and the structure have yet to be disclosed, though with the policy rollout planned for Feb. 9, we should hear more details soon.) That means the proprietor of @PossumsEveryHour may now be asked to spend money to curate this pipeline of cute possum pictures, which is a decision sourced from a dramatic misreading of why people build Twitter bots in the first place.
If you want to be exceedingly generous to Musk, you could say his fixation on Twitter bots dates back to last summer, when he tried to wriggle out of his agreement to purchase the company by griping about the supposed glut of “spam accounts” gumming up the metrics. But @PossumsEveryHour carries no monetization measures or advertising initiatives; it is not extracting anything from the company’s bottom line. Instead, Musk’s pivot, should it come to pass, will go down as yet another one of his graying austerity measures—determined to gouge Twitter users for having the audacity to enjoy the platform.
As I considered this, and the question of what Twitter is worth if its strangest automated denizens get the boot, I considered another pressing question: Won’t somebody think of the possums?
“My heart sank when I read the news. I read it right after I finished several meetings at work and went to a lunch break and it basically knocked me out for the entire day,” says Sam, the 25-year-old from Slovakia who operates the @PossumsEveryHour feed. (Sam asked me to keep his last name private.) “I couldn’t do anything, and just watched the notifications feed of people thanking me for running the bot.”
Sam built @PossumsEveryHour after graduating from high school because he wanted to experiment with some of Microsoft’s automation tools. He was a fan of Lauren Monger’s webcomic Terrible Terrible Terrible, which featured two anthropomorphic possums as main characters, and decided to dump a bunch of possum images into the bot’s data set before assigning it to a Twitter feed. Voilà. The legend of @PossumsEveryHour was born. “I forgot that I never turned it off until I had API failure emails coming in,” remembers Sam. “I saw that it had a lot of followers already, so I decided to keep it running and loaded more images into it.”
In other words, @PossumsEveryHour is a side project—a proof of concept put together by a kid who was becoming interested in the frivolous possibilities of coding, and certainly nothing he ever thought he’d spend money on to maintain. The same can be said for Anya, a 23-year-old in Pennsylvania who told me she was specifically inspired by programs that posted animal photos, like Sam’s creation, when she designed the Pokémon Plush Bot in early 2021. Every hour, a sumptuous toy Eevie or Geodude hits the feed, sparking envy and desire in the replies. Anya has collected these plushies her whole life, and adores the community she’s sculpted out of the 50,000 followers who’ve attached themselves to her work. It’s the sort of Twitter success story that should be nurtured, not punished.
“Musk is so out of touch with Twitter, he doesn’t understand the user base at all,” said Anya. “Not only fun bots like mine that are good for distracting you from the state of the world, but there are bots with important purposes, like the ones who translate earthquake data into tweets to warn people of possible danger. The disappearance of those kinds of bots can have devastating consequences.”
She’s absolutely correct about that. Beyond the wondrous niche rabbit holes of Twitter—you and me succumbing to an infinite-scroll blackout filled with bodega cats and Frog and Toad quotes—there are plenty of bots that offer straightforward, utilitarian quality-of-life bonuses. The Verge highlighted both Remind Me Of This Tweet (a makeshift bookmarking service) and the Thread Reader App (an effective way to untangle a 300-post daisy chain, ideally one that contains good tea) as casualties of the forthcoming botpocalypse that might be felt in a more material way. (At least, compared to a sudden absence of possums.) But frankly, I am still of the belief that the quintessential Twitter account is one that teases out a lot of useless information over a long period of time. It is reassuring, in a sense, that for all of the stuffy professional posturing people like to do on the platform—the blue-check fetishism, the ridiculously overheated political debates, the advent of Truth Social in general—Twitter is, and always will be, an internet forum. And internet forums are at their best when they are as unserious as possible.
“As much as I love being able to interact with the community, post memes, and provide commentary—at the end of the day all of it is just a hobby to me,” says the anonymous owner of Every Spongebob Frame In Order, one of my favorite automated Twitter machines, which serves as an agonizing death march through the annals of Bikini Bottom. “There’s no benefit for me doing this other than the love from the community. I think this comes at a time where Twitter should be working to keep content creators on the platform, rather than trying to oust them.”
Who knows? Maybe cooler heads will prevail. Elon Musk’s stint as Twitter’s CEO has been lousy with chaos and riddled with dozens of weird backtracks. Two days ago, he said that the company might offer some sort of free bot accessibility for those who are providing “good content.” Identifying what Musk defines as “good content” is a dark journey indeed. I certainly hope @PossumsEveryHour survives whatever purge is coming, because I’m quickly running out of reasons to stick around.