The comedian and Parks & Recreation writer Joe Mande has been a hellraiser on Twitter for as long as I've been following him. He has feuded with oblivious celebrities, causing at least one to delete his account; tweaked self-important politicians, gaining infamy as a troublemaker in Washington D.C.; and called out those absurd mega-corporate accounts who act like humans, by retweeting, en masse, their strange, cloying attempts to ingratiate themselves to us.
Now, however, Mande (Twitter account here) is on a new, weirder quest: to acquire -- yes, acquire -- one million followers by purchasing "bots," or zombie accounts created in the tens of thousands by murky, far-flung hacking companies. Last week I talked to Mande over the phone about the project, which seems to have consumed him in the way the White Whale consumed Ahab. He has become, by the sound of his voice, somewhat batty, a tad obsessed with bots.
I suppose his bot-fueled mania is to be expected, however. You know what they say, after all: The first million empty husks of Twitter followers is always the hardest.
What’s the inspiration behind your quest to reach a million followers by means of illegal bots?
I guess it’s because — it started with the fact that I had been stuck at 80,400 [followers] for months. And I realized that, at this point the number [of followers] you have on Twitter is the number you’re at. I don’t think a lot of new members are joining, nor do I think they are following as many people as they do when they first sign up. I was just kind of getting bored with the fact that I was stuck at this number.
So I read an article a couple of weeks ago saying that for Justin Bieber and Katy Perry and all of these people, over half of their followers are fake. And I was like, “Well, I want in on that.” So I found this shady website that sells Twitter followers, and I was talking to this guy in Moldova in broken English, and I asked him how much it would cost to get to a million, and he said $300.
So I said, “Well, I have $300, and a dream. So let’s do this.”
What was the result of that conversation with the Moldovan man? Is it happening?
It is happening. He went crazy and said he couldn’t do it for me, but through that website I found a bunch of vendors from various countries all over the world who are willing to sell me a certain number of Twitter followers for like $5 apiece. Some are much better than others. My follower count fluctuates wildly from day-to-day.
It must be exciting to wake up every day to see how many tens of thousands of followers you’ve gained.
Yeah, it’s really an emotional rollercoaster. When I’m up, I’m way up. And I get really sad when it’s down. And then I keep purchasing more like a complete maniac.
Are your family and friends supportive of this?
Oh, everyone is very worried about me.
Oh, well, I’ve gone insane. All I do is tweet about bots, and talk about bots, and stay up late buying bots from people in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
— Joe Mande (@JoeMande) July 26, 2013
— Joe Mande (@JoeMande) July 27, 2013
Loyal #bots: follow me on Instagram at joemande thank you my loves 110100010111010010000000111110110001110101100101111111101100101011111101
— Joe Mande (@JoeMande) July 29, 2013
I actually had to make a deal with my girlfriend, because she was very opposed to this. Every dollar I spend buying bots I have to cancel it out by giving a dollar to charity. I am just hemorrhaging money at this point.
What charities are you donating to?
I’m probably going to do Doctors Without Borders, and the ASPCA. I have not yet spent $100 on bots, so when I do that’ll be the first donation.
It’s sort of nice to hear that this isn’t a selfish fever dream.
Well, it was, but then I made a compromise with my girlfriend because she was mad at me. So I think the credit for that should go to my girlfriend, because it was completely a selfish fever dream before that.
What’s the target date for hitting one million?
It’s really hard to say. I lost something like 50,000 yesterday in the morning. You just kind of wait and see; this is truly just phase one of my ultimate goal.
Which is what?
If I can get to a million, then I think I’m going to start a Kickstarter campaign to get to 45 million to top Justin Bieber.
Do you have a cost estimate?
If I’m basing it on the $300 figure it would be about $12,000 [to get to 45 million]. But I think it would be much more than that. That’s where the hacker comes in, though! I reached out to Reddit because I was hoping that some hacker could just do this for me — some kind of like-minded Twitter rascal could just make them. Because that’s another thing: I don’t know who these guys are, I’m just paying money, like, to Pakistan. I don’t know where this money is going...I could be funding a jihad of some sort.
Personally, it’s worth it for me. But maybe in the long run, I’ll feel bad. I don’t know.
Have you found any American companies that are doing this, or is it all former Soviet republics and Eastern European nations?
The way that I’m going about it is much more cost-effective. There are legit websites that people have pointed me towards where you pay a couple thousand dollars, and I’m just not going to do that. This is much more exciting.
I realized that I don’t care when athletes use steroids, and I’ve never cared. So it’s the same thing: Who cares if I had a million bots? It doesn’t mean anything. The athletes who use steroids are just psychos who are super-driven and they are willing to destroy themselves for a goal. And I guess I’m the same way.