The Ability to Retweet: A Right, or a Privilege?


On Twitter, no matter how much careful you are with follower counts, there’s one aspect that contributes to the noise in your stream more than anything else: The “Retweet” Option. I myself use this often when I see a tweet I like and want to pass around. It is the easy way out. I don’t add any of my own spin on the tweet. And, if I’m not feeling like creating my own, I could just sit there and hit RT until Twitter shuts off the pipes for a while. Twitter’s decision to allow users’ RT to show up in their followers’ stream as a default gave the company short-term benefits but may prove to have long-term drawbacks. When the feature was enabled, users probably sent more tweets and increased the total numbers of tweets sent. In the short-term, higher numbers are good for press.

In the long-term, users are trained (like me) to hit the RT button without fully thinking it through, without first contemplating what that might be doing for those who follow my account. That noise may frustrate people and, worse, as a user I didn’t earn the chance to hit RT, it was just given to me, gratis. If someone gets too much RT noise from me, they have to physically go on to my page and disable the RT feature from showing up in their stream. That puts the burden on the consumer, not the producer.

That slight distinction — giving tweet producers the right to RT without earning it, and without allowing the consumer to opt-in — may have given Twitter eye-popping numbers but also may have cost them by amplifying the noise in the system, perhaps beyond a reasonably controllable level, and simultaneously created an opportunity for other sites to position incentives in favor of the consumer, no matter how low the metrics are. (One possible solution: Twitter notifies users when a follower disables their RT function. That notification would send a signal to the user that their RT may cause too much clutter for others.)