Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

05 Dec 2013, 7:51 a.m.

Fisher-Price's My First Twitter Bot

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2013 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

On Sunday I wrote my first Twitter bot, with a bit of help from Leonard. (A Hacker School colleague inferred, understandably, that Leonard and I just write Twitter bots on the weekend, to relax.) Then yesterday I helped a peer get her first Twitter bot going, and decided to write it up for y'all/future Pythonistas.

Folks have already written other guides to writing good Twitter bots. Those more experienced people are better than I am at writing good, surprising bots, ones that respond to tiresome hashtags or argue with followers or what have you. My guide, in contrast, assumes that you already have some kind of code that spits out strings of 140 characters or fewer, and just want help interfacing with the Twitter API using Python so a Twitter account can say those tweets.


  1. I rely on the python-twitter wrapper around the Twitter API. If you are using a virtual environment that you made with mkvirtualenv or similar, then activate your venv and

    pip install python-twitter

    If you live on the edge, or if you are a devil-may-care type who loves convenience so much more than safety that you tab-complete your passwords, then command-tab away from Snapchat* long enough to install the package globally:

    sudo pip install python-twitter

  2. EULA Hotel photo from Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA, by Jeroen ElfferichNow, go to and create a Twitter account for your bot, e.g., @FreedomBot. Make sure that you give Twitter an email address whose messages you can actually read. Read the end user license agreement and agree to it. Did you know that there's a hotel in San Francisco named the Eula?

  3. Look for the automatic email from Twitter and follow the instructions to confirm your account. Once you've done that, go to and sign in with the username and password of your bot's Twitter account, e.g., your username is FreedomBot.
  4. Go to and choose to create a new app. Yes, your "Markov chain parody of the Office of Management and Budget" script is an "app" for our purposes; this is the easiest way to get the relevant keys.
  5. Go ahead and fill in a reasonable name, description, and link (your website or Gitorious repo would do). These will not be publicly visible or scrutinized by Twitter's gatekeeper gnomes, so don't sweat it. Leave the "callback URL" field empty. Read the Rules of the Road (so much more folksy than "Guidelines for the Walled Garden") and agree.
  6. Now that you have an "app", go to the Settings tab and change your app type from Read-only to Read/Write, so you can actually post to Twitter from your script. (If you're having trouble navigating back to your app, go to to find it.)
  7. Next, on your app's Details tab, click the button at the bottom to create your API secret key & token. It'll take a minute for Twitter to create those for you; after a minute, go ahead and refresh the page. Now that page gives you the "consumer key" and "consumer secret" as well as the API "access token key" and "access token secret".

    (The "consumer key/secret" pair identifies your "app" (the code you are writing) as something that is allowed to interact with the Twitter API; it's sort of a substitute for the User-Agent string in a browser. The "access token key/secret" pair authorizes the Twitter account whose tweets the "app" is gonna write. So conceivably you could write an app like Sycorax that lets your bot roleplay multiple accounts, and it would end up getting multiple access token key/secret pairs so that could work. This is all OAuth stuff that briefly turns you into an octopus when you understand it.)

  8. So, how can your script use these secret strings (to authenticate and authorize you) without those supersensitive nuclear launch codes falling into the wrong hands, viz., your GitHub repo? I did it this way:

    Open up a new file in the same directory as your bot script, called something like "". Also add "" to your repository's .gitignore.

    #!/wherever/you/put/python  # ok, probably /usr/bin/python
    import twitter
    api = twitter.Api(consumer_key="KEY",
  9. So now, in your application or in the Python interpreter, you can do:

    from twitterapi import api

  10. And then, to post your awesome string to Twitter as @FreedomBot:

    api.PostUpdate("wow\n so Program Assessment Rating Tool\nnice\n very budgetary")

  11. Optional step! If you want to leave your bot running to tweet at 5-minute intervals, then import time and stick a time.sleep(5*60) line and an api.PostUpdate(awesomestring) into a while True loop.
I am posting this guide on 5 December 2013, and undoubtedly Twitter will revamp all this within the next fortnight and switch to OAuth 2038 (OAuth For Workgroups) and turn their developer site into something you manipulate by holding up your mobile phone in front of your Google Glasses. But for right now this works.

* Is there a Snapchat desktop app? Maybe Snapchat is available for the iPad and in my hypothetical you're programming on your tablet? I don't know what people do these days.