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He Came, He Saw, His Bot Tweeted — And He Conquered Countless Weird Prizes

Not pictured: the warped Tupperware lids Hunter Scott's bot dutifully won in a mock-sweepstakes. They were never mailed to him.
Hunter Scott
Not pictured: the warped Tupperware lids Hunter Scott's bot dutifully won in a mock-sweepstakes. They were never mailed to him.

You have to be in it to win it, as the adage goes. Or, if you're Hunter Scott, you just have to build a program to be in it for you.

The Californian computer coder entered some 165,000 contests online, winning about a thousand of them — and he managed to get a Twitter bot to do all of it for him.

"A Twitter bot is just a program that uses Twitter's interface to programmatically do tasks," Scott explains. Using a bot he created, he hatched a plan to participate in every sweepstakes he could possibly find on the social media site. Then he watched as prizes piled up on his stoop at home.

And, as he tells NPR's Rachel Martin, the things he won weren't exactly what he was expecting — or even always what he wanted.

Interview Highlights

On how he built the bot

A lot of websites, including Twitter, have a way to interact with the service using something called an API [application program interface]. So it's a way for other programs to talk to Twitter or Facebook, or whatever. ...

For example, if you've got a news site that is publishing articles all day, and you want to post all those on Twitter, you could have a person do it or you could use Twitter's API to automatically do that. That's the service that I used from Twitter to build this.

On how he got the idea

I think most people have probably seen, every once in a while, the "retweet to win" thing show up on Twitter, and so I was kinda curious about whether or not the contests were actually real. I started out just searching Twitter for every instance of a contest I could find and entering all of them — because why not? ...

That's the beauty of the program, right? I just have to tell it, "Enter every contest you see," and then just let it run all day and then come back and see how many it entered.

On the best prize he won

I think the largest by value was a trip to Fashion Week in New York. It was like, you and a friend and they gave you some money to buy clothes and gave you a limo ride over there to see a bunch of the shows and stuff. However, I did not end up claiming that because I was living not very close to New York and it did not include airfare. And I also wasn't psyched about paying the taxes on the retail value of that prize. ...

A lot of these contests, I really didn't know what I was entering. I don't know if you'd say I was psyched about it, but it was — it made me laugh — a cowboy hat that was signed by all the stars of a telenovela that I had never heard of before. I love that it was something that I totally never would've expected. It's kind of entertaining to have stuff like that show up on your front door. And you're like, "Oh! OK, I guess this is what I'm winning."

On his decision to put it to rest

I ran it for about nine months, and eventually, I think the last time I ran it, it ran for quite a long time — I think like six months or something. And then one day it for some reason got banned, probably because someone reported it. Sometimes, if people perceive it as spammy they'll — if enough people report it, they'll shut it down. So at that point, I'd kind of gotten tired of it and just let it kind of end.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.