The “Quote Tweet”, or “RT with comment” function, is undeniably a useful facility on Twitter. Like many of Twitter’s functions, it became a trend in user behaviour first, and was then officially integrated into the platform’s toolkit. But many people have come to see the “quote tweet” as a monster. Why is that? And if it is a monster, might Twitter tame it with a system of reward-sharing?
HISTORY OF THE FUNCTION
Before 2013, the notion of a “quote tweet” was simply a user copying text from an original tweet, pasting it into their own tweet in quotes, and then adding their comment in the remaining space. Given that tweets were limited to 140 characters back then, the scope for combining both the original tweet and the comment in that hard one-forty was restrictive in the extreme.
So some users adopted a workaround. Rather than copying and pasting the text from the original tweet, they’d grab its URL, and paste a link to the original tweet, into their own tweet. Then they’d add their comment. Since URL links in tweets were (and still are) auto-shortened through t.co, the link would normally use up fewer characters than the actual quote. The main problem now was that no one could see the actual quote unless they clicked/tapped the link.
But in 2013, Twitter began turning the URL links into embedded tweets, so when someone tweeted a link to an existing tweet, the existing tweet would appear inside the new one, fully formatted. When this embedding function first went live it was a hush-hush affair, and the “RT with comment” tool was not officially launched as an addition to the Retweet dialogue box until April 2015.
Way ahead of the game as usual, I wrote a tutorial on adding a comment to a retweet at the end of summer 2013 – well over a year and a half before Twitter officially launched it and the tech blogs broke it as “news”. So fortunately, from my 2013 tutorial we have a rare visual record of the original embed as it looked in the earliest test period. Here it is, and notice how you could follow the quoted user directly from the “quote tweet”…
Incidentally, you can still do a “quote tweet” the old way today. Hit the Tweet button (as opposed to the RT button), paste in a URL link to any existing tweet, and add your comment. The result is exactly the same as using “RT with a comment” – and yes, your tweet still registers in the quoted user’s notifications.
WHY HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE COME TO HATE QUOTE TWEETS?
But since the “quote tweet” / “RT with comment” function was made official and added to the Retweet facility in 2015, its purpose has to an increasing extent been hijacked. The original purpose was simply to convey one person’s tweet to other people, whilst simultaneously explaining why it was relevant, or adding extra info.
But today a lot of people use the “quote tweet” / “RT with comment” facility for the following reasons…
As a power-trip alternative to the reply function. Like: “Yes, I just want to reply. But no, I’m not going to post in YOUR thread. I’m going to start my OWN thread“. There’s a definite sense that the “quote tweet” has become the dominant person’s reply, whereas the Reply function itself is the submissive option. But the dominant option is contagious – especially since dominant users tend to have bigger audiences. “Influencers” and wannabes routinely use “quote tweets” vice replies. So a large audience sees the behaviour, and copies it – even submissive members of the audience, and/or those who don’t see the power dynamics behind why the “influencer” is doing it.
As a means to leech other people’s engagement rewards. Like: “Oh that’s a good photo/quote/joke you just came up with. But rather than just retweeting it I’m going to add a one-word comment such as ‘Great!’, or ‘This.’, so people will give ME the RTs and Likes, rather than you.” Some people have entire feeds of “quote tweets” with one to three of their own words in them. They’re saying the first thing that comes into their head, and it doesn’t add to the original tweet at all. Their intention is purely to build a profile on the back of other people’s work – without being accused of content theft.
To bully people. Like: “Hey, I don’t agree with what you just said. But rather than just me expressing disagreement, I’m going to show your comment to my gang and see if they will attack you“.
Those are the main ways in which “quote tweets” are being misused, and they often come in a combination recipe. I don’t mind admitting that the ‘engagement theft’ annoys me to the point where I will block, and have blocked, followers on my most engaged account. As a creator, it is truly infuriating to post something that took time and effort to create, then watch someone “quote tweet” it with a pointless one-word addition, and get more engagement than you. How can that NOT piss you off?
I don’t use social media to make myself angry. So my original reaction was just to log out and not post for about three months. But that penalised me, so when I returned, I just blocked all repeat “quote tweet” offenders.
If you have a Twitter account that gains traction (and only one of mine ever has), you have to protect your output from parasites or else they’ll dilute your engagement. I saw at first hand that blocking “quote twits” can work. Some of my tweets were occasionally getting Liked or RTd by a magazine. The magazine didn’t follow me, and was engaging via another user’s retweets. Then someone started “quote tweeting” my stuff and actually tagging the magazine into their “quote tweet”. So then the magazine would RT/Like the “quote tweet”, but not my original. I blocked the “quote twit”, and literally forward from my next tweet, the magazine followed me. They’ve been engaging directly with my account ever since. I eliminated a parasite, and gained a good source of growth.
I know audiences should click through from the “quote tweet” to the original tweet and Like or RT that, but the fact is most people don’t, because social media conditions users into a mindset of convenience above all else. They see, for instance, a joke in the “quote tweet” and they Like/RT the “quote tweet”, even though the “quote twit’s only contribution was “lol”.
Blocking can be a solution, but it’s not always viable. Especially if you have no reach at all, and someone with reasonable reach is “quote tweeting” you. It would be stupid to block someone giving you that exposure when you can’t really do without it. But if they’re not adding to your contribution, why should they get nearly all of the engagement on your work? And with more and more people misusing “quote tweets”, you’re also faced with a problem of scale. You can’t just block everyone.
There is, then, a case for Twitter itself to weigh in with a measure to stop or reduce the misuse of “quote tweets”. But how would it do that?
One option would be to share the Likes from “quote tweets” with the posters of the “quoted” content. In other words, each Like the “quote tweet” gets, is also added to the original tweet. So if I “quote” your tweet, and I get 50 Likes, your tweet also gets those 50 Likes. Your original tweet shows in the Like lists of the people who Liked my “quote tweet”, and those people’s profile links show among the Likes on your original tweet. If they unLike your original tweet, their Like also disappears from my “quote tweet”.
This could seriously reduce the bullying issue, because people would presumably not want their ‘enemies’ in their Likes lists. That should begin to starve the bullies of Likes, and make them a lot more reluctant to post “quote tweets” for bullying purposes. The concept of “rewarding the enemy” could additionally be extended into other areas where bullying is a problem.
Sharing Likes would also compensate creators when their content is quoted. It’s only fair if you think about it. If their work is part of the whole, why should a creator not also get the reward?
It’s harder to guess how the measure would play out with “power-trippers” – the people who use “quote tweets” as replies because they want to maintain a dominant position in interactions. But again, their Likes would be shared with the user they’re “quoting”, so they’d probably be thinking more carefully about how they used the facility. And it obviously wouldn’t do the posters of the original tweets any harm.
“Quote tweeting” has come a long way since the start of its pre-inception phase back in 2013, but the growth of the phenomenon has not all been positive. Let’s hope Twitter can change that.