An Interview With SiripalaBot


In our recent analysis of the Presidential Poll hashtag on twitter, we took a long, hard look at the twitter people having the biggest effect on the flow of information – as as you can see, some of the results were really surprising, with a many an individual tweep reaching a far bigger audience than the biggest media networks.

But perhaps the most surprising was the massive presence of one particular account in the rankings. Despite receiving almost no engagement whatsoever, this account, via retweets, pushed out enough Twitter traffic to utterly and absolutely dominate one particular Twitter hashtag, and to rank right up there with @PresRajapaksa in another. Yes, you guessed right – we’re talking about Siripala Bot.

prespolsl - Copy
A rather stylized representation of over 18,000 tweets from #PresPollSL

Now, some people really didn’t like the fact that we factored a Twitter bot in our analysis. It doesn’t matter. Like it or not, Siripala Bot was a massive presence in the sample space, and it’s even got a couple of thousand followers in a very short while among the rather minuscule #lka Twitter population. That’s particularly strange considering most Sri Lankan Twitter bots never get that far. Where did this thing come from?

Who goes there?

Photo credits: Ushan Gunasekara


Hello, I’m Kaveen Rodrigo. I’m @EnigmaMaker on Twitter and I’m an Open Source Activist. I wasn’t the brightest person in my school, actually one who got disappointing marks in school, but I always had a passion for computers. Coding is my hobby. My primary and only operating system is Linux, so I do script a lot.

After my O/L’s, I knew I wouldn’t pass well enough to do maths, because however much I loved the subject I always failed the exams. I joined IIT Sri Lanka for my higher education – and as assumed, I passed my O/L’s poorly. Right now, I’m in the middle of my first year in the BEng of Software Engineering programme. I’m happy with my progress. Most of my work is available on Github.

We’ve seen Twitter bots before – chatmundo, RedScareBot, Olivia Taters and KookyScrit come to mind. What makes Siripala Bot special?

Well, SiripalaBot was an experiment. I was using the python Twitter API for big data purposes. I saw a lot of violent tweets on #lka – it was interesting data, and again, the tool I used was custom written – well as usual, I got bored and after I saw @RedScareBot i just wanted to try out something special.  And so I started work on Siripala. It wasn’t what I planned; I wanted to make an AI do something and I ended up with this. The original Siripala thanked the user if mentioned and updated the weather. There are a couple of weather bots around, and therefore I stripped out most of the features – now it just re-tweets and shows some news bulletins.

Unlike traditional bots SiripalaBot uses the Streaming Twitter API, making it extremely fast, and it’s fully Open Source – I’ve made it available on github.

Why the name “Siripala?”

My grandather, passed a way about one year ago in an unfortunate accident. Well, his real name was “Gunadasa Perera” but he was called Siripala by his friends. @SiripalaBot is just like my grandpa, it tells all the stories of Sri Lanka, and this is a continuation of his legacy, that’s how I think about it.

How does Siripala Bot work, from a tech perspective, and how adaptable is it?

Siripala is hosted on Heroku cloud platform and is controlled via the GIT version management system. The main handler is written in an OOP structure; all the dynamic values are stored in .json files, making it easily adaptable by others.

In our analysis of the #PrespollSL tags, we found that a massive portion of tweets on the Presidential poll hashtags were from SIripala Bot. Are you concerned that people will see this as spam?

I’m aware of this. I tried getting the followers of SiripalaBot to start using #TellSiripala hash tag, but wel.l only a couple of people use that, so I was kind of stuck with using #lka, For #PresPollSL I was told by @BuduMalli, the original creator of the hashtag, to keep re-tweeting.

I did try my best to avoid tweets getting re tweeted in recursive manner. But there are some other bots – well, not really bots, but often people re-tweeting the same tags like mad – which makes it harder.

Do you have any other functionality planned for Siripala Bot?

Well, I am working on a new Siripala Bot. It won’t just be a retweet bot, it will analyse tweets form Sri Lanka and find the trending hash tags and retweet on those, so its much more dynamic. Maybe I will give it back some of the personality that SiripalaBot missed.
You can explore Siripala Bot’s code here:


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