Programmers make all kinds of Twitter bots, little pieces of code that can interact on the service. Some of them distort images like Photoshop filters. Others tweet words from the dictionary, or mashup Kim Kardashian and Kierkegaard. That is to say, bots are usually toys or possibly pets made of software. They are meant to aid or amuse.

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But not the bot that lives at @Every3Minutes, which has been tweeting at me every three minutes since I followed it.

Each tweet takes one of a few forms, though they all deliver the same haunting message. "In the antebellum American South —- a person was just bought," or "#OnThisDay in history — a person was just traded," or "In the antebellum American South a black person's child was just bought," or "In the antebellum American South — someone just bought someone's grandchild."

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To follow this bot is to agree to reweave the horrors of slavery into the fabric of your life.

I did it knowingly. I wanted to be reminded of the freight of history pressing down on us. And it has worked: nearly every time I check Twitter, I am forced into a small reckoning with our nation's past. And it seems to me that it is unprecedented as a form of learning.  There have been other history Twitter accounts: all those history photo accounts, real-time event recreation accounts like @realtimewwii, or people who tweet snippets from historical documents, like John Quincy Adams' diary.

But this bot is different. It tweets so often that the notices of the sales of human beings have become built-in to my experience of Twitter, almost as if it was part of the user interface. Here are my friends going about their lives, here is the technology news, and here is a reminder of the constant trauma inflicted upon the ancestors of friends, colleagues, neighbors. Every time I forget, another tweet goes by: a slave's friend was just sold.

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This is the opposite of the way history normally unfolds in public life. We hear about the Emancipation Proclamation or perhaps the heroism of the Underground Railroad. But books or movies or news segments cannot capture the daily grind of a country of slaves and slaveowners.

Rice historian Caleb McDaniel created this bot, drawing on research into the volume of the American slave trade, to which the account also tweets links. The idea began in McDaniel's history classes, as he tried to communicate the precariousness of enslaved people's lives in the face of the enormity of the slave economy.

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"Some enslaved people seemed to have property that they considered theirs—houses with keyed doors; garden patches and livestock they controlled; money they earned by selling goods and services," McDaniel writes in a blog post on the project. "These customary privileges, though spread unevenly across the South and never recognized by the law, represented hard-won but not insignificant victories in the never-ending war between the enslaved and their enslavers."

So, one day, he coded a simple program that, as he lectured, printed a single line on the screen behind him every three minutes: "A slave was just sold." McDaniel calls it "a subtle reminder of the Damoclean sword that hung over every cornpatch, Sunday wage, or home that an enslaved man or woman had won."

The idea that Americans owned slaves—"Founding Fathers," even—is one that every school child is familiar with. But it is a small, thin form of knowing. Many of us know it as we know that the Earth is spinning in the emptiness of space. The knowledge doesn't carry the emotional payload that it should.

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I was waiting for a plane in the Dulles airport yesterday, scrolling through Twitter, killing time. And a man struck up a conversation with a companion in the row behind me. Somehow, he got on the topic of black people, which somehow got him talking about slavery. He noted that there were black slave traders in Africa. Then, in a leap of logic that forced me to change seats, so I wouldn't do something that would get me thrown out of the airport, he said, "We didn't enslave anybody."

This statement was an absurdity and an outrage. But, staring at my Twitter feed, I was more struck by the sheer historical ignorance of it. The experience of following @everythreeminutes teaches how slaveowners had to renew the institution of slavery day after day, hour after hour. They had to keep depriving slaves of their autonomy.

I've never encountered history like this. These feeds we monitor on Facebook and Twitter are always filled with new things, but rarely do they effectively connect us with the weight of the past. Whatever else this country is—wonderful and dark—it is also a place where white people could buy and sell black people for decades after the practice was outlawed in Mexico, Great Britain, France, and other countries. And during that time, every 3.6 minutes a slave was sold.

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"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

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"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

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"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

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"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

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"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

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"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

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"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

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"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."

"A slave was just sold."