Horse_Ebooks: The Dril Question

Weird Twitter’s most legendary “bot” has been exposed. But what about its most revered character?

Horse_ebooks, the most visible outgrowth of Weird Twitter, was today revealed as a long-running art project by a BuzzFeed employee (though not on the editorial side) and his friend, Thomas Bender.

Many had suspected that the account was no longer a bot; few, and none at BuzzFeed, knew it was run by Jacob Bakkila. In any case, its popularity had been steadily rising for nearly three years.

The reveal was a surprise, but in retrospect made some degree of sense. Bakkila used to go by @agentlebrees on Twitter before deleting his account. He left Twitter before coming to work at BuzzFeed, for fear, he said at the time, of alienating potential employers. Some time after joining BuzzFeed he helped us with an oral history of Weird Twitter, where he participated in character — @agentlebrees was an early, and influential, account among Weird Twitter people. Few knew who was really behind it, but few cared. It was a character.

More interesting, in retrospect, was that he connected us with the second most visible, and by far the best loved, Weird Twitter account.

Jacob claimed to know Dril, which was strange, because nobody knows Dril. He offered to connect us, and said Dril was interested in participating in the oral history and gave me a throwaway email address. He responded, and it was funny.

Jacob also told us a little about Dril, saying he was a graphic designer, or something like that, and that he lived in the tri-state area. He said he had hired him to do some work on a “project” he had been working on, but stopped short of giving us any identifying information. Suggestions that we give this “graphic designer” work were rebuffed. The secrecy was never explained but never really questioned; Dril is an art project and the creator didn’t want to come forward, at least not all the way. It made enough sense.

He also pointed us to a video series created by Dril, with unspecified others, documenting Trey Parker and Tré Cool’s battle to rename April either Treypril or Trépril, and one policeman’s mission to stop them at any cost. It’s, well. It’s something:

Today, we’re left with an obvious question: Is Jacob Dril? Maybe. It would make some sense. He wasn’t able to talk this morning, as he was in the middle of his big reveal, answering phones with Bender and New Yorker writer Susan Orlean (!!!), reading off tweets from a sheet of paper. At the event, he was occupied. We tried to call; the line was busy.

Perhaps a better question: Was Jacob in on Dril? Almost certainly. (Dril was a presence, alongside ABG, for years on SomethingAwful’s FYAD board. It would have been a lot of work for one person.)

In that case, Dril is not a just character created by a reclusive genius or a mysterious weirdo or a shut-in. He’s not just a good joke taken far. He’s an identity created and maintained with clear motive, by, or at least with the knowledge, of a BuzzFeed advertising employee. An art project, a viral stunt. Part character, part troll. But mostly troll.

For a while, Favstar.fm retained a copy of the old @AGentleBrees tweets. This morning, the Favstar page was gone, but the @AGentleBrees account appeared to come back, although it’s unclear if it’s actually him (Jacob was busy answering phones as part of the art installation today, but it could have been someone acting on his behalf).

A few tweets that were copies of the “best of” original Twitter appeared earlier this morning, but were then deleted.

Currently, there is only this tweet:

Dril’s latest tweet was at a BuzzFeed editorial employee:

So for now, the closest thing we have to closure is this line, given to us by Jacob for our oral history:

Data-sickness sweeps the land and twitter obliterates all mysteries. All information is present.

Indeed. Nobody likes to be fooled, but man. Pretty sick troll. Nice.

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