RTs are endorsements!

With all this hype about Elon Musk buying Twitter, obviously a lot of people ended up going back to the site and seeing what it is… I myself am one of those people who went back to Twitter after Elon Musk bought the platform.

One of the things I did when I got back was to get the news about the transaction. Hence, it was inevitable to find profiles of journalists who were talking about the case and it didn’t take long for “RT is not an endorsement” to appear (or even “RT ≠ endorsement” for those who know how to copy-and-paste or even understand Unicode ) in the bios of some of them. This statement is easy to find; especially in profiles of journalists. I understand it to be a way for them (mainly journalists who cover the universe of politics) to exempt themselves from any responsibility associated with RTing a controversial message. But that always leaves me puzzled; even more so when it’s in a tech journalist’s bio. What pisses me off is that it’s simply not true. RT is a form of endorsement, yes. It’s in the nature of functionality. Just saying this in your profile does not resolve the fact that you are endorsing a message by retweeting it.

I explain by showing two (of several) things that happen when we simply retweet (RT) a message without context.

1 – Message amplification

When you RT any post on Twitter, the first thing that happens is that you amplify the original message for your followers (or for a fraction of them, for that matter… but still, it’s an amplification of the message). Making a message – even if you disagree with it – reach your followers is a way of endorsing the content of the original post. Put yourself in the position of a person who follows you. Suddenly that person following you sees a message in their feed with something you retweeted. Without any context, that RT signals to the person reading the tweet that you agree with it to the point of replicating the message to your followers. In other words: RT is endorsement.

2 – Platform signaling

Another thing that happens when we RT without any context associated with it is to signal to the platform that that content is of interest to you. Obviously the RT already signals to the platform that that content is of interest before anything else. But when you RT and don’t add any context, it’s you signaling to the platform that your profile is interested in that content and is recommending (endorsing, as I said above) that content to your network. If you don’t agree with something and RT that something, you’re sending the wrong signal to the platform. Then two things can happen as a result of this. The first is for you to signal to the platform that that content may deserve some attention. That’s normal. But doing that with content you don’t like is shooting yourself in the foot. You will be helping the platform to be a bad place for everybody. The second is you help the author of the original content to be promoted by the platform to people including your audience. This seems to be included in the previous question, but notice that by signaling this to the platform, that original profile, even if it is someone you don’t agree with at all, you are informing the platform that that content may be of interest to you , your audience (your followers) or people who look like you. I mean, nothing cool. By RTing a post and not adding any context, you are endorsing the original post. Understand it!

How to do it?

An important thing to do is to provide proper context to the RTs you give. By doing this you are letting your audience know that you disagree with what you are retweeting, you are explaining why you disagree and you are also (very important) associating the words in their context with the RT. This way you also teach the platform that that RT is associated with those words and this can help the platform to understand the reason for the RT and not necessarily understand that that original profile may be of interest to your audience.

Therefore, it is always good for you to give the context when you are going to replicate a message. Put your observation. This helps your audience (your followers) and also helps teach the platform that what is on your profile is associated with the words you used in your RT.

If you’ve read all of this and haven’t seen anything new, good for you! 🙂
However, this is likely not part of their repertoire (yet) and was new. In this case, the reason for using the video The machine is us/using us in my Communication and Digital Culture classes in the middle of 2022 is justified. It is that even though it was made there in 2007, the concepts prevail there.

Furthermore, there are many people who work with social media / digital communication who do not associate our actions on the platforms and what they learn with and about us.

Obviously, in the same way that platforms learn from us, they also learn that the association we make between our profiles and messages that we replicate (RT) without context are not necessarily affinity associations. But it’s also nice to understand that until that happens, the platform needs to know you and your interaction habits there. That comes with time. So, you need to be a very frequent user of the platform for this to have already happened. And it’s also nice to keep in mind that this learning about platforms only solves half of the issues I brought up in this post. The other half (confusing your audience) is not solved with this machine/platform learning. Your followers will be confused when they see something you’ve RTed without providing context in their feeds.

Now that you know this, make a commitment not to replicate a message without giving the proper context associated with it. Help your audience (and the machines as well) not get confused about your intentions. Believe me, not confusing the machines now can be useful to you in the future, when they take over. 🙂

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