Daily Archives: June 25, 2009

Does RT = spam? Unlikely. A retweet is social media currency.

Two small cans of Spam. One is closed and the ...
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I’m still working through my notes and interviews from the past week’s Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston. Many people, ideas and presentations will stay with me —  I look forward to writing another article and several blog posts today and tomorrow — but I wanted to make sure I captured one particular moment that actually irked me: The statement by a member of a panel in a session on Twitter that a RT is spam.

Apparently, @IsaacGarcia is determined to hold onto that position in the face of substantial counter opinion. I’m left to speculate how much he has used or read about Twitter; I gather from his comments on the panel that he has used the medium to find customers for his company and sell the product. The irony of that use is that by searching for mentions of his brand or looking for potential prospects and replying to them, he is in fact engaging in unsolicited commercial messaging.

I believe there’s a word for that.

Humor aside, I did reflect for a while on Garcia’s contention, which he tweeted during the panel: “How is recvng RTs about a topic/person that I didn’t choose to Follow not spam? Am recvng unsolicited info from the originator.” Isaac isn’t an obtuse man; Central Desktop was used by the Obama campaign to manage field operations in Texas.n, as Josh Catone blogged in ReadWriteWeb.

So where’s the disconnect? I wrote about the retweet last November for WhatIs.com, in “Buzzword Alert: The retweet (RT) is the FWD of 2008.” To retweet is to repost the tweet of another Twitter user using your own account.

It would probably be helpful to review what spam IS again, other than a fatty breakfast meat that’s likely to survive a nuclear winter. Wikipedia (currently) calls “Spam the abuse of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages.” CNET reported that, in 2009, spam makes up 90% of all email. If anything, that’s actually down from the 95% estimate I read a few years ago. That may be a result of shutting down ISPs that allow sending spam; it’s not likely, at least in this pundit’s eyes, to be a result of the CANN-SPAM Act, which created standards for sending commercial email. To be compliant, you must have a way for users to unsubscribe and do so if asked.

Twitter, of course, makes subscribing and unsubscribing from efforts rather easy — follow or unfollow. There are many technical hiccups that sometimes hinder that process, but by and large that’s the way it works. I choose to subscribe to your tweets. If don’t like something about the experience, I stop listening.

Fortunately, I’ve been gifted by thousands of smart, savvy followers, and when I asked them all if a RT is spam, I received 11 immediate @replies, followed by a few more. I’ll share their thoughts, as I believe they speak eloquently in defense of the role of the retweet.

First, my friend and colleague on the Touchbase blog, Leslie Poston, offered her perspective:

geechee_girl: some RT = spam, blogged em on Uptown Uncorked last week

Leslie clearly has had it with some of the hijinks that have been going on Twitter, including a basic lack of netiquette and yes, some genuine spam. In “Retweeting Etiquette, RT Spam, RT Flash Mobs, RT Linkbait,” Leslie points out many of the issues around the convention that have sprung up as Twitter has exploded in popularity and the usual shady netizens have moved in. The post is worth reading, but, in the frame of my question, her concern is around retweeting spam, not that RT itself constitutes it.

sleddd: RT not really spam, more sharing information. Like a phone tree or saying hey check this out to the people who do follow you. RTs, DMs, replies, as well as general tweets are what help make social media social.

stales: RT=spam? No, not at all. When you “follow”, you’re giving that tweeter the right to pass on ANY info.. regardless of source

chrisbechtel: a Retweet is not spam – it is a share of something the sharer deems potentially valuable to their community.

pmhesse: a RT is about sharing information with your friends that you found valuable, informative, or entertaining.

eric_andersen: I couldn’t possibly follow all of the original sources of info/links I’m interested in; rely on others to RT. IMHO sharing info via retweets is part of the “lifeblood” of Twitter; without sharing much appeal of the medium is lost.


faseidl: It *may* be spam, but in general I would say false. See my comment on that question on this post: http://bit.ly/Wg7lp

craighuff: some of us find RTed information valuable and welcome it.

saccades: RT can “reflect the” light of a bright idea

: a RT from me is something I liked, found interesting, or wanted 2 share.

Here’s my version: A retweet is social media currency. It’s a validation of the tweet you are passing on and a stamp that you have not changed it. I use PRT, for partial retweet, if I have to edit for length.

I use via or HT for “hat tip” if I pass along  someone’s link but write my own text, which provides proper attribution. The HT has been a convention of blogging for over a decade; there’s no sense in changing the netiquette simply because the blog is smaller. If Ben Parr is correct in his assessment of the trend, we’ll soon be seeing RS on Facebook, as people reshare information in that real-time environment.
In many ways, reshare is a much better word, as it captures the essence of the action: passing along information that we thought was worthwhile, funny, useful or otherwise worth seeing. It’s precisely the sort of action, in other words, that makes someone want to follow another person on Twitter or not.

As any longtime of Twitter knows, there is in fact plenty of spam on Twitter. There’s even a @spam account to report it to. #hashtags spam has become a problem, given that whenever a topic becomes trending on Twitter, spammer hop on and advertise whatever the scheme of the day might be. Nastier folk lurk there too, twishing for unsuspecting users.

Even reputable companies have engaged in it, as Mashable noted yesterday, when Habitat Used Iran Twitter Spam to Pimp Furniture.‎

(Habitat has since apologised for its Twitter ‘hashtag spam.’)

Patrick LaForge, a long-time user of Twitter and director of the copy desks for the New York Times, had the last word in my @reply stream. I tend to take his view as definitive on the subject. (The emphasis below is mine.)

palafo: If you don’t like my tweets, don’t follow. Only spam is follow-spam and reply-spam. “RT” is ugly/confusing but quick.

In other words, it’s not that there isn’t spam on Twitter — it’s just not the RT.
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