Over the past few days, TechCrunch, The Guardian, and others have been writing with some amusement about the inexplicable and rather silly little army of Amazon bot-drones that have sprung up on Twitter. Assuming they don’t get deleted in a fit of embarrassment, you should be able to find those accounts here. The questions that sprang up across various media sources ranged from, “Is this elaborate counter-marketing?” to “Are these people really… real?”
That latter question naturally caught my full attention, so I decided to spend my Saturday afternoon addressing two research questions:
- Are these tweets really being sent by a bunch of unique people?
- Or are these all synthetic identities that are the work of a PR company employee or two?
Those are basically two halves of the same issue, but you get my drift.
Via a careful search, in the end I found fourteen qualifying accounts, excluding the inevitable parodies and whatnot that have cropped up since the story broke. These accounts are: AmazonFCAdam, AmazonFCCaleb, AmazonFCCarol, AmazonFCCindi, AmazonFCIsaac, AmazonFCJeremy, AmazonFCKara, AmazonFCLeo, AmazonFCMichele, AmazonFCMisty, AmazonFCPhil, AmazonFCSean, AmazonFCShaunJ, AmazonFCThomas. And they were all created from 10th August onwards, so none of them has had chance to tweet much.
On 24th August 2018 at 15:33, I downloaded all the tweets sent by all of these people using FireAnt, and ended up with a total corpus of 918 tweets. (You can download a CSV of that corpus here, but note that I screwed up the tweet text field so the longest tweets are annoyingly truncated. I had to fix those manually in my post but alas, I don’t have time to fix the CSV right now. If you have the wherewithal, the full JSON is here and contains the full tweets.)
Anyway, as the various journalists cited above have already noted, these accounts are virtually clones of each other. The bios are all structured the same – [job], [employment duration], [personal touch of two or three interests]. The usernames all start with @AmazonFC. The names are all [first name] – Amazon FC Ambassador. The pictures, the headers, even the topics of conversation are all eerily similar.
However, having downloaded the data and opened it in FireAnt for a poke around, the first thing I spotted was that the source of all of these tweets is massive social media PR platform, Sprinklr. Encoded in every one of the 918 tweets as the source is <a href=”https://www.sprinklr.com” rel=”nofollow”>Sprinklr</a>. Not iPhone. Not iPad. Not Tweetdeck or Twitter for iOS or Facebook (yes, that happens). It’s always Sprinklr. Why does this matter? Well, it means that the account operator(s) are more likely sat at a desktop computer, typing into a software that is handling the tweet before it goes live, rather than a phone. But whether that’s the case or not, Sprinklr can be set up so that tweets are moderated before being released. And of course, tweets sent through this platform could just be written by Sprinklr employees.
Before we get stuck into the language, can the metadata tell us anything more?
Looking over pattern-of-life information like the times that tweets are sent, and who is sending those tweets, and who tweets alongside whom, can reveal the fingerprints of various systems, processes, and decisions that are otherwise invisible when looking at a single account. Let’s consider some oddities in this dataset.
|Date (Aug 2018)||Tweets||User|
|Fri 10th||21||Carol (WA), Phil (WA)|
|Sat 11th||3||Carol (WA)|
|Mon 13th||19||Michele (WA)|
|Tue 14th||29||Carol (WA), Michele (WA)|
|Wed 15th||51||Adam (TX), Caleb (TX), Jeremy (TX), Michele (WA)|
|Thu 16th||79||Adam (TX), Caleb (TX), Carol (WA), Jeremy (TX), Michele (WA), Phil (WA)|
|Fri 17th||73||Adam (TX), Caleb (TX), Carol (WA), Jeremy (TX), Michele (WA), Phil (WA)|
|Sat 18th||59||Adam (TX), Caleb (TX), Carol (WA), Jeremy (TX), Phil (WA)|
|Sun 19th||15||Carol (WA), Phil (WA)|
|Mon 20th||25||Carol (WA), Michele (WA), Phil (WA)|
|Tue 21st||27||Cindi (OH), Isaac (OH), Kara (FL), Leo (FL), Michele (WA), Misty (OH), Sean (OH), ShaunJ (FL), Thomas (FL)|
|Wed 22nd||52||Adam (TX), Cindi (OH), Isaac (OH), Leo (FL), Michele (WA), Misty (OH), Sean (OH), ShaunJ (FL), Thomas (FL)|
|Thu 23rd||154||Adam (TX), Caleb (TX), Carol (WA), Cindi (OH), Isaac (OH), Jeremy (TX), Kara (FL), Leo (FL), Michele (WA), Misty (OH), Phil (WA), Sean (OH), Thomas (FL)|
|Fri 24th||311||Adam (TX), Caleb (TX), Carol (WA), Cindi (OH), Isaac (OH), Jeremy (TX), Kara (FL), Leo (FL), Misty (OH), Phil (WA), Sean (OH), ShaunJ (FL), Thomas (FL)|
Close start and finish times
The first interesting point to note is that plenty of times in this data, the accounts start and stop tweeting within minutes of each other. For instance, on Friday 17th August 2018, Caleb, Jeremy, and Michele all start tweeting within two minutes of each other (02:37:39, 02:38:03, 02:38:38). Everyone goes silent for fourteen hours, and then Adam, Caleb, Carol, and Phil all start tweeting within 13 minutes of each other (16:08:03, 16:08:22, 16:17:54, 16:21:46). However, this actually makes sense. After all, these accounts are supposedly run by employees as part of their jobs, and jobs start and end at similar shift times. Whether those employees are working for Amazon or Sprinklr, though… *cough*
Unlikely tweet times
On Wednesday 15th August, from 19:48 to 20:02, one after another, Adam, then Caleb, then Jeremy, then Adam again, then Michele, then Jeremy again each manage to send their tweets exactly ON the minute (19:48:00, 19:52:00, 19:53:00, 19:57:00, 19:59:00, 20:02:00). That’s six tweets in a row from these accounts that all land exactly on the turn of the minute. Pretty remarkable, right? Each second has a 1.6666% chance of being the second that a tweet is posted, but out of all 918 tweets, 232 – a whole 25% – go out at __:__:00.
So what does this this tell us? Well, maybe a lot, maybe not. It says that there’s possibly a scheduler involved. Perhaps the tweets are in a queue for approval, and to avoid a sudden clump of tweets going out at once, they are being scheduled out throughout a whole working shift. Or perhaps all the tweets being written by some poor Sprinklr PR intern(s), and to keep the characters consistent, the times of those tweets are being set within that account’s supposed working hours. Or perhaps the employees like to randomly schedule some tweets but not others. Or they’re scheduling them all but sometimes the actual posting of a tweet is delayed for a few seconds by site traffic. Or a million other possibilities…
In short, the only thing we can deduce from the pattern-of-life metadata is that something is going on that isn’t typical of a normal account. It doesn’t tell us if these tweets are all written by the same author or two. To get more insight into that, we need to look at some text.
Whilst 918 tweets isn’t a prohibitive amount to analyse for a full investigation, it’s too much for a Saturday afternoon blog post, so my first effort was to massively rationalise the data down. Looking at the pattern-of-life table above, some names clearly co-occur with others a few times, and if authorship synthesis is going on, they are therefore much better candidates for being written at the same time by the same employee. I therefore started at the start, with Carol and Phil, on 10th August. I stayed within that one day since on another day, another employee might be animating the same accounts. In short, I started out with the twelve tweets by Carol, and the nine by Phil sent on the day the accounts all first started going live.
|Carol – 10th August||Phil – 10th August|
|Are those swag bucks?!? Can I have them? I love showing my FC pride, but we can only buy the items with swag bucks. (It’s just a FUN way for mgmt to be able to say, “great job today.”)||Hi! Swag Bucks are simply a reward for a job well done handed out by managers. We can exchange them for Amazon branded items like tshirts, water bottles, sweatshirts, Echo dots, etc 🙂|
|Its true. We do work hard. We do work long (10 hour shifts.) And we do work smart. The FC life is not like anything I have ever done before and I LOVE IT. This is where I plan to stay for the rest of my working career!!!||Hi [name]! I work in an Amazon warehouse in WA and the conditions are not that bad 🙂 Sure, there are issues (as in any WH environ.) but we’re encouraged to call these out to our managers. Employee safety is the number one priority.|
|I love having the FC I work in, close to where I live. A living wage including monthly bonuses, a wonderful benefits package and a reasonably short commute.||Hello! Amazon does pay their employees minimum wage – any less would be illegal 😀 One thing that often gets overlooked are the employee benefits that Amazon provides for all employees – Health insurance, 401K, career/financial counseling.|
|I have thoroughly enjoyed my FC career so far with Amazon. A wage that sustains me, good benefits and a wonderful team environment. We may work hard, but we certainly have fun. (Oh, and there are no timers in the bathroom. 😉||Hi! Swag Bucks are simply a reward for a job well done handed out by managers. We can exchange them for Amazon branded items like tshirts, water bottles, sweatshirts, Echo dots, etc to show our pride at work 😀|
|I make more than enough to live my life, ,my way. My wages have never been an issue. PLUS, I get a monthly bonus. Swag is just a fun extra.||I work in an Amazon warehouse in WA and I haven’t seen any examples of what she went thru, here. We’re encouraged to let our managers know the second we get injured and then get taken to an onsite person who is actually a licensed EMT. I certainly don’t feel discarded.|
|Sorry for my delay in responding, I was actually using the FC‘s restroom. Can you believe it? Indoor plumbing! There are so many restrooms, it’s hard to choose which one to use. As for the food stamps, I’m good. Thanks. My paycheck takes care of me and mine just fine.||No food stamps needed for this Amazonian! 😃|
|I have seen so much good happening, since I hired on here at the FC. I know it’s hard to get that across, with so much negative circling and recirculating out there. So…I am going to politely agree to disagree.||Hello! I work at an Amazon warehouse in WA and I can assure you that they are treating me well! I have great benefits, like the people I work with and can go to the bathroom when needed 😃|
|(Pulls up a chair…) I already receive a decent living wage. The SWAGbucks are just a fun little thing that shows we’re appreciated. It allows us to buy FC specific merch that is available for purchase…but only with those swag bucks. specifically for each FC. No generic stuff for us. I we||Hello! I work in an Amazon warehouse and I’ll admit, it is hard work. But, I’ve never felt mistreated at work or like I couldn’t go to the bathroom when needed 😃 The people I work with are great and the benefits are great!|
|OMG! I LOVE that song. Tennessee Ernie Ford had an amazing voice. Something I happen to have in common with our SWAG bucks. I love the personalized FC merch that is available for purchase…but only with those swag bucks.||Hi! I work at an Amazon FC in WA and the working conditions are not that bad. Sure, there’s going to be growing pains (especially with a new FC) but we’re encouraged to call out any issues/concerns to our manager. Employee safety is a top priority in our building!|
|Living wage AND fair, non-abusive working conditions. WOW!!! I have been so very happy since I hired on with Amazon. That’s right, no complaints here.|
|To be honest, the FC life isn’t for everyone. No one industry is. FC is a lot of hard work. But I love it!!! And I have fun doing it.|
My first and quick conclusion from this is that these two sets of tweets are consistent with themselves, and different to each other. Note how Carol uses !!! a few times? She likes the FC abbreviation, and she also very consistently double-spaces after her full-stops (oh Carol, why…). Meanwhile, Phil starts almost every tweet with something like Hi! or Hello! (far too chirpy, Phil, seriously, calm down a bit) and Christ almighty look at all those emoijs…
So, after a five minute read-through, they look internally consistent with themselves, and externally inconsistent with each other. Likely, then, we’re either dealing with two different people or a genius forensic linguist mastermind supervillain. I’m still holding out for the latter, but even if it’s the former, nothing yet guarantees that this isn’t two Sprinklr employees.
To add a layer of sanity-checking, I had a look at their next day when it’s just the two of them – Sunday August 19th, and Carol is right in there, double-spacing away like whilst Phil is cheerfully firing off a chirpy Hi! and Hello! at the start of most of his replies. Also I’m guessing his frequently used emoji section on his phone has pretty much that one emoji in it…
What about another comparison? Let’s take Carol versus Michele on Tuesday 14th August:
|Carol – 14th August||Michele – 14th August|
|Um…hello…um, we have indoor plumbing throughout our FC and I use it as needed, without fear of any repercussion from my managers. No pee bottles or buckets for this girl. 😌||I bet this gentleman looks forward to getting up and having someplace to go and stay busy. I’m quite sure it is a choice to work as we get up in age. I’m sure it is part necessity but also a choice|
|I wouldn’t describe my earnings that way. My Amzn pay is more that enough for me to take care of my livelihood. I don’t have any worries as to how/when my financial obligations will be met…and I still have money left at the end of the month.||No worries [name] I will not over work myself. Promise!|
|FC worker ✔️ Decent wage✔️401k/Stocks✔️Med coverage✔️Monthly bonuses✔️OT opps✔️ Climate controlled✔️Safe environment✔️Bathrooms&water stations throughout FC✔️Multiple breakrooms✔️Get full breaks/lunch period✔️Am I happy✔️✔️✔️||This will be an excellent opportunity for your area. I am currently employed at a fulfillment center for the past two years and it has been an amazing experience for me. Good luck fellow Amazonian’s|
|A living wage is defined as a wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. My Amazon compensation package allows me to do just that and more. I have never felt that I didn’t hold the controls to my own employment status .||As a warehouse worker I am proud to be employed by Amazon. As a company, they are a great place to work. Work hard. Have fun. Make History.|
|I live quite well on my Amzn compensation package. The FC is clean, climate controlled, has all the necessary amenities…I work with a great team here at BFI4!!!||We do not receive less than minimum wage. We receive above minimum wage.I also have great medical benefits a monthly bonus, and are given stock shares every year. I so appreciate my job at Amazon.|
|Hi. Amazon employee here. I make enough at Amazon, to sustain my livelihood. (No state aid.) I live in a house, not a car. (But I do have a car.) OH, I almost forgot. We don’t use pee bottles. The restrooms at the FC work and are located for easy access for all associates.||Amazon pays 95% of my tuition. I have had so many opportunities since starting with this company. They really do invest in their employees. I am grateful for the” second chance” that I have been given from Amazon.|
|Can I tell you a secret? It’s important. I’ve been in a Amazon FC for 1+ yrs now and have never been abused. I get all my breaks. We have rstrms all over the FC, that we can uses as needed. A comfortable compensation package. I am proud to say I work at BFI4!||Thanks, Trent. I will agree that working at Amazon is not for everybody, but I enjoy the physical aspect of my job. I look at like this. I basically get paid to go to the gym 4 days a week. I’m in the best shape of my life.|
|I would like to interject for a moment if I may. My FC is very comfortably climate controlled. No ambulances hanging out in the parking lot. And, truth be told, I have never been taken advantage of. 😃 Benefits day 1. Life sustaining wage + reg bonuses, Stocks + 401k. 😃||I work at amazon. I love to work there. One of the best jobs i have had in my 57 years.|
|I’ve been working in an Amazon robotic FCs for 1+ years and have yet to see anyone defecate in the trash, nor have I seen the remnants of such an act. There are restrooms conveniently located throughout the FC that we can use whenever needed, w/o fear of getting in trouble. 🤔||I must make time to go visit the Spheres. it looks beautiful. One of my perks of being a loyal Amazonian|
|I have worked in one of Amason’s robotic FCs for over a year and not one time have I felt exploited or humiliated. I am paid well. More than enough to keep the roof over my head, the bills paid and still $ to do as I wish. AND, my job allows me to get in a good workout. 😉||I think it is exciting for Georgia that Amazon is coming. I love working for them. It will bring a lot of people great opportunities.|
Carol continues with her double-spacing (*sigh*) and consistently uses FC and has a thing about trinities (triple-ticks, triple exclamations, etc.). And Michele consistently… doesn’t do those things. But also she isn’t chirping an over-happy Hi! at the start of every tweet either. Nor is she emoji-ing herself straight into an endtimes Telegraph article about kids’ literacy nowadays. So, four sets of tweets by three authors all looking inconsistent with each other and (on a quick analysis) consistent with themselves.
So, is this a PR company writing all this stuff? Is this all the same person? Reveal! REVEAL!!!
You’re going to hate me…
I don’t know.
We can divine several things. The three accounts I analysed look consistently different to each other, which suggests different authors. So far, so good. But Sprinklr and Amazon each have more than three employees, and if hired by Amazon to synthesise a little clone army of cheerful Stepford wives, I assume Sprinklr would be throwing the kitchen sink at this with multiple employees on their game. I think we can tentatively discount the idea of one bored intern authoring all the tweets, but we still can’t say who actually employs the authors, and likely, we will never know.
I’m still holding out for a genius forensic linguist mastermind supervillain.