Programmer unleashes bad-grammar bot on Twitter


Washington, USA

For a soft-spoken programmer from Buffalo, Nate Fanaro gets a lot of hate mail.

Every day, his Twitter queue fills up with messages telling him to die or delete his account. "I find you extremely annoying," one caller said in a voice mail. "You make little girls cry. What's your problem?" said another.

Fanaro is not a hacker. He doesn't take down Web sites or swipe credit card numbers. Rather, the 30-year-old prankster is the creator of the Twitter grammar bot @CapsCop, an automated account that finds people who tweet in all caps and, within seconds, fires a snarky correction back at them: "Give lowercase a chance," perhaps, or "On Twitter, no one can hear you scream."

The technology behind such bots is simple, which helps explain why so many tech-savvy grammarians have launched their own. Programmers need only write a script to search Twitter's data and respond to certain phrases, and they're well on their way to Twitter infamy. Some accounts reply to users directly, while others retweet the offending messages.

Teachers, parents and other curmudgeons have long blamed texting and social media for the general decline of the English language. Considering the widespread disregard for grammar in certain corners of the Internet, they could "b 4given" for thinking that kids these days can't write. (Because while we're sometimes talking about outright mistakes, we're also talking about the grammar-agnostic spirit that has evolved online.)

Although Twitter may seem like a stronghold of sloppy writing and acronym-happy Internet slang, a number of vigilantes are hilariously and controversially fighting back.


Bots such as Fanaro's ping unsuspecting Twitter users with sarcastic corrections. Anonymous copy editors such as @fiercek send gentle revisions to work tweeted by writers and reporters. One of the newest accounts, a wildly popular project by Buzzfeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski, seeks to publicly shame users who tweet things like "speak English your in America omg." "I think you mean 'you're' in America. That's embarrassing," @YourInAmerica tweeted back to that one.

Since its launch in late November, Kaczynski's account — which exclusively targets the phrase "your in America" — has attracted 18,000 followers and plenty of praise from media outlets such as Latina magazine, which lauded him for launching a "grammar crusade" against "outraged nativists." But Kaczynski, who can be found tweeting pictures of adorable hamsters and politicians' Christmas trees in his spare time, treats the attention like so much comment-box blather.

"I didn't set out with a purpose or anything," he says. "I'm not personally offended by it. It's just . . . funny."

"Funny" is a fair description of Twitter grammar. Many of the platform's ungrammatical but widely used conventions — such as confused homophones ("your the man") — are, indeed, laughable to readers schooled in what linguists call "standard English."

But the vigilantes that froth over them can be hilarious, as well: @StealthMountain, the most popular of the bots, exists solely to tweet "I think you mean 'sneak peek' " to users who type "sneak peak." @YourorYoure, which dates back to April 2009, pings users with a simple "[Wrong!]" when they misuse every first-grader's most-hated contraction. Eric Mortensen, the bot's creator, says he made it after seeing a co-worker's rage at an e-mail that confused the two.


Despite the online kerfuffle, most linguists agree that neither texting nor the Internet defile the English language. Consider the headline, says Tim Stowell, a linguist at the University of California at Los Angeles who studies syntax and specialized speech. Much like telegrams, diaries and cookbooks, headlines come with their own wonky set of grammatical rules. But people don't leave out pronouns, articles and conjunctions in spoken sentences just because headlines do.

In fact, Stowell says there is no evidence that any form of "specialized speech" has corrupted spoken or written English, and plenty of recent studies have come to the same conclusion. In September, researchers at Coventry University in Britain ruled that there's no link between text-message conventions, which are also used on Twitter, and bad spelling or grammar in other forums. A 2009 study from the University of Alberta concluded that text-speak should be viewed as a dialect that people can switch into and out of.

Why the panic, then? That might have less to do with Twitter and more to do with who's tweeting, Stowell says. According to the Pew Research Center's 2012 Twitter Use report, 26 percent of Internet users younger than 30 tweet, versus only 9 percent of users between 50 and 64. That makes Twitter's grammar abuses the perfect fodder for a little generational outrage.

Even Fanaro, the @CapsCop creator, says the concern about grammar on Twitter is much ado about nothing. While he has dedicated a fair chunk of time to correcting grammar on Twitter — his three-year-old bot now boasts an accompanying Web site and iPhone app, and has tweeted more than 1 million times — he doesn't take his own message "too seriously."

Fanaro doesn't correct people's grammar offline, and he admits to posting a few caps-locked tweets himself.

"But when I write an e-mail, I read it over and over and over before I click send," he says. "And I think that's something we could all keep in the back of our minds."

Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
Jonathan de Guzman of the Netherlands and Willian of Brazil compete for the ball
world cup 2014LIVE BLOG: Hosts Brazil take on the Netherlands in third-place play-off
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice