If you’ve ever set up an online dating profile only to be bombarded by creepers sending you inappropriate photos, or started exchanging text messages with someone you met on Tinder only to find they’re completely insane, then Ghostbot is a chatbot you’ll actually use.
Why this matters: Chatbots, which are smart assistants built into other apps that can handle tasks for you automatically, definitely sounded cool in theory. But then we saw their practical applications in Facebook Messenger this spring and were decidedly underwhelmed. Ghostbot is built on top of Burner, an app that lets you create anonymous, open phone numbers, and it’s restored my faith in the potential of chatbots. Not only is it hilarious, but it can also keep you safe.
How to date in the 21st century
Ghostbot, as you might guess from its name, is a bot that ghosts on your behalf. When you think about it, one of the more realistic uses cases for a chatbot is online dating. Who has time to respond to every message, especially the aggressive or creepy ones? And who wants to give their real phone number out to randoms on the internet? Ghostbot is taking advantage of Burner’s open phone number platform to turn your dating-specific burner number into an auto-responding text message line to scare off suitors who just don’t get the hint.
Not interested? Let Ghostbot respond on your behalf. Credit: Ghostbot
Once you turn on Ghostbot for a specific contact, the bot will respond to messages in a human-like amount of time. The bot recognizes specific categories of comments and has hundreds of prewritten responses to pull from. Ghostbot product designer Lauren Golembiewski told me the bot is designed to “de-escalate and not engage” in a situation. Most of the bot’s responses are noncommittal.
“As we were thinking about this broken culture of dating and texting, we noticed that women disproportionately receive aggressive and inflammatory messages,” Golembiewski said. “If they respond or don’t respond, even if they try to be diplomatic or let it go, the guys on the other side escalate that situation. We wanted an option somewhere in the middle of not responding and actually trying to address the situation and let them offload that into a bot so they don’t have to think about it. So we created Ghostbot, which responds to a wide variety of messages. We primarily focused on a lot of the aggressive situations and created responses to those incoming texts.”
So how did Golembiewski and screenwriter Peter Miriani come up with hundreds of auto-responses to every potential dating conversation? They looked to the robust community of online daters, which includes popular social media commununities like @ByeFelipe (some content is NSFW). Bye Felipe is an Instagram account that posts screenshots people, usually women, submit of aggressive and unacceptable messages they receive. Account creator Alexandra Tweten beta-tested Ghostbot after running some sponsored posts from Burner on the account months back.
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