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Sunday, 12 June 2022
By Shephali Bhatt

Bot’s trending?

On Friday, Grant Thornton, a leading global audit and advisory services network, tweeted from its account, @GrantThorntonUS, that it was partnering with an organisation to create “LGBTQ+ workplace equality”. The tweet was ‘ratioed’, meaning an unfavourable reply to the post had got significantly more likes and retweets than the original. It was from an account called @PayGapApp that had quote-tweeted the post with: “In this organisation, women's median hourly pay is 18.5% lower than men's.”

@PayGapApp is a bot account that calls out the gender pay gap in over 250 companies from around the world, based on data from the UK government’s gender pay gap service database. When a company listed on this service tweets a seemingly grandstanding statement on equality, diversity, or women’s rights–which is typically around the time of International Women’s Day or during the Pride month–this account gets alerted to automatically quote-tweet it with their median gender pay gap.


Set up in March 2021 by copywriter Francesca Lawson and software consultant Ali Fensome from Manchester, England, the account was trending on Women’s Day in March this year. While the data that the account shares is all publicly available, few people know about it, and even fewer act on it. Therefore, the bot, in the founders’ own words, uses this data “to provide a neutral, factual counterpoint to emotion-led International Women’s Day social media posts”.

In 15 months, the account has garnered over 240,000 followers. Sugandha (@Sugandhabee), a tech product strategist, is one among them. What appeals to her the most about the bot account is how it is rooted in "hard, cold facts". "You can’t argue with them, nor can you debate them. You can’t call it political vendetta, you can’t say it’s biased, you certainly can’t defend it.” It is contextual and meaningful data that weakens all arguments against dissent, she says. “If you look closely, you’ll find that Gender Pay Gap gets good engagement on its tweets, but not so much in the comments. Why? There’s not much left to say!”

Over the last couple of years, a bunch of such fact-based anonymous and/or automated accounts have gained popularity among startup and tech industry professionals what with big tech coming under more scrutiny. An anonymous account called @TechEmails was set up in May 2021 to put out internal tech industry emails that have surfaced in public records largely due to litigations. It has over 228,000 followers to date. Neha Reddy, a marketing analyst at a VC firm, followed the account just two weeks ago after reading its post containing an email in which Elon Musk tells his staff at Tesla that remote work was no longer acceptable at his company. "It gives you a peek into the internal shenanigans of top companies and their executives and the way they think and operate,” says Neha. "In an odd way, it makes it seem like these famous tech leaders are just like all of us."

Big Tech Alert (@BigTechAlert), an automated account posting about whom the who’s who of the tech world are following and unfollowing, is also in the same league. Except, this account shows how different famous tech leaders are from PLUs (People like us). For starters, their follow/unfollow makes headlines, especially if they are Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos.

Alex Barredo (@somospostpc), a 36-year-old science and tech podcaster from Madrid, created this bot account in September 2018. In a Twitter DM chat, Alex told me he was inspired by @TrumpsAlert, a bot account started in June 2017, that tracked Donald Trump, his entourage, and his family’s follows and unfollows, to try and figure out what was going on inside the White House.

Today, @BigTechAlert tracks about 199 Twitter accounts of companies and individuals. Approximately 60% of the individuals it tracks are top executives from Silicon Valley in the US, says Alex. The account uses a “people” emoji to convey ‘X followed Y’ and an “eyes” emoji to lend a dramatic effect to the news of ‘A unfollowing B’. It has inspired at least two Big Tech Alert India versions, both in their nascent days.

Sumit Raj, an engineering lead at a prominent edtech company, started one of them in February 2021. “I got the idea from my CEO’s to-do list where he had shared that India should have a @BigTechAlert equivalent.” Sumit’s @BigTechAlertIN got traction for tracking Cred founder Kunal Shah’s follows. “I even noticed that a couple of handles he followed eventually updated their bios to add some position at Cred,” he recalls. But the account got locked just a few months after it was set up. A founder reported its tweets about their following activity as spam, he says. Sumit has got the account unlocked recently as he sees value in running it. “People want to see whom the people they look up to are looking up to,” he says.

Being a part of the startup and tech industry feed on the internet means having a social media timeline constantly flooded with long threads and short videos of ‘mavericks’ who want to be hailed for their hustle or clout-chasers hustling to be seen (and followed) for their radical stance on an Elon Musk tweet. In a sea of “threadbois” and hot takes, these few accounts rooted in facts are not just a refreshing change (and need I say, highly entertaining and satirical), they often leave an outsized impact on the industry that seldom gets documented.

For instance, a glance at the gender pay gap bot account will tell you how many companies delete their pompous tweets after being called out by the bot, and how many others block the account, which also counts as impact. The bot regularly shares updates on companies whose gender pay gap is reducing every year.

Even though they have hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and are working towards having a presence through newsletters and Instagram posts, Sugandha thinks some of these accounts are rather underrated. “The popular narrative around technology paints such a larger-than-life picture, that we often forget the simple ways in which technology can create impact [like in the case of these accounts],” she says.

In a world that’s obsessed with predicting the future, some of these accounts are trying to use tech and data analysis to show us that buzzwords aside, some underlying problems need attention, too, she adds. “And no, Web3 doesn’t solve them.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.


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Shephali chronicles how the internet is changing the way we live, and how our changing ways force tech companies to transform themselves. You can write to her on Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin.

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Edited by: Shalini Umachandran. Produced by: Aswetha Anil

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