Today’s post is from Robby Slaughter of Slaughter Development, a productivity consulting firm.

I have a habit of making fun of Kyle Lacy for repeating himself online. We’ve had some good discussions about this topic, and since I’m writing all about it here on HIS blog you know that he’s willing to have to conversation in public as well as in private. Here’s what I find hilarious (note—pay attention to time stamp of each tweet):

Before you accuse me of photoshopping, allow me to assure you that all these are genuine tweets. And I only went back a few months! And I only looked for Tweets that said “Good morning!” Kyle also loves generic messages like “I hope everyone is having an excellent/great/wonderful day!” (Seriously: check it here or here or here or here or here or here and I could go on.) Plus a zillion “Feel free to add me on skype! – kyle_lacy”. Plus more and more and more!

Social Media Automation

When you see all of these posts with exactly the same content, I imagine that most people think the same thing I do: Kyle is automating these messages. Heck, if you scroll up you’ll see that all of the examples come from Hootsuite, a service famous for letting you schedule messages in advance. It would seem like Kyle actually planned, many months ago, to wish all of us good morning today. Does a friendly greeting count as genuine if it is delivered on a specified date by a robot?

But in this case, Kyle’s personal character is not at question. I find this incredulous: according to Kyle, he never schedules these messages in advance and actually types each one. (Well, at least the “I hope everyone is having a good day” tweets.) Instead, they just look scheduled. When I pointed this out, Kyle said they weren’t scheduled and that he types them by hand

(In case you were wondering, yes, I have set a record for the blog post with the most links to individual tweets.)

Social Media Philosophy

Now we have come upon an interesting challenge. Kyle’s tweets are an example of a famous problem in philosophy called the identity of indiscernibles. Or, if you weren’t paying attention in freshman seminar: “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, can we assume it is probably a duck?”

Kyle’s tweets certainly appear as if they were automated. They come from a service that is known for automation. They all have exactly the same form—except for one which has two exclamation points. Yet we know they were really sent out by hand. How are we supposed to tell the difference? And more importantly, would this distinction actually matter?

Social Media Ethics

Social media is just the marriage of Internet technology with the human desire to be sociable. In real life, we are constantly trying to detect whether people actually know us. Sending a Hallmark card is nice, but sending a personal, handwritten note is better. Saying hello to acquaintances is usually welcomed, but remembering their name and details is more meaningful. When we start to outsource social graces to other people, our relationships become strained.

Imagine this interaction:

09:58AM: @kyleplacy About to go on stage for my keynote at Tweetworld in two minutes! Wish me luck!
10:04AM: @randomfan Hey @kyleplacy, I just finished your new book and I love it!
10:06AM: @kyleplacy Thanks for the kind words, @randomfan!

If we saw that, we might suspect that @kyleplacy wasn’t actually tweeting for himself. Just as this hypothetical Twitter conversation makes us wonder, Kyle’s many “Good morning” tweets look a lot like Kyle isn’t actually there.

Social Media Stupidity

Kyle will be the first to point out that his “Good morning” tweets are actually the source of considerable engagement. However, this success has nothing to do with the fact (or his claim) that they are not automated. Instead, it’s Kyle is always ready to answer back when people reply to a “good morning message.”

On the one hand, it seems insanely stupid to spend countless hours typing repetitive phrases, even these identical messages are actually divided up into separate days. After all, don’t we use all kinds of plugins, apps and services to automatically tweet RSS feeds, send out location-based data, and tell people when we’re commenting on other posts? If we support highly complex automation tasks like these, why shouldn’t we set up our technology to say “Good Morning” every day at 6AM?

The answer to the ethical problem is not easy. But if I were Kyle, I’d be careful not to say the exact phrase “Good morning”, for fear that people are confusing genuine engagement with scheduled messaging. Instead, let me suggest some variations, such as “Happy Tuesday!” or “Good morning, everyone!” or “GOOD MORNING, people of Twitter!”

Make up enough different messages, and you could automate them. At that level, even I would not notice.