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, 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:

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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Filed under blogging, journalism, microsharing, social bookmarking, social media, technology, Twitter

9 responses to “Does RT = spam? Unlikely. A retweet is social media currency.

  1. The issue isn’t about social media currency or opt-in following……my statement of RT spam revolves around the frustrating and noisy stream of RTs that I receive from the people that I respect and want to follow.

    If I am following 5 (a low number to just keep it simple) and all 5 RT the same O’Reilly article or the same Paul Graham article….it is ridiculously redundant and spammy.

    OK, I’m willing to concede that this does not constitute the legal definition of spam (i understand the concept of opt-in folks)…..but the larger your network, the more “important” people that you follow tends to increase the amount of RTs, which I consider to be very spammy.

    Beyond the legal definition of spam, consumers and users have come to associated any torrent of email (even opt-in email) as spam/spammy/annoying/inefficient/ridiculous.

    RTs can be avenues to discover new or different “things” but RTs are ridiculously easy to send….low barrier of entry…..and can be easily abused. Massively redundant (see Dave Winer).

    When I follow a “thought leader” or a friend I am interested in their original opinions/content…..not in their acting as a mail routing server…thus the spam metaphor. Some folks told me that I was “following the wrong people” – but the fact is that many ‘leaders’ RT frequently and redundantly.

    Lastly, my larger and chief concern is RTs (and Twitter-like functionality) within the enterprise. At E2Conf we continually heard from many, many, many businesses and corporations that were very concerned about bringing in “this medium” into their firewall. We’ve incorporated ‘micro-blogging’ into Central Desktop……the jury is still out on how ‘spammy’ it will become……..although I have a pretty good idea where I believe this is going.

    While most of the Twittersphere was vehemently in disagreement with my statement……I can’t tell you how many folks came up to me, stopped me in the hallways, on the elevator, DMs, etc that wholeheartedly agreed with me…….from my perspective it was about 50/50. Yes, 50/50. And, MOST of the 50% that agreed with me were business owners, large company executives, or business-centric managers….few of the Twitterati were in agreement with me.

    Look for a more detailed response from me at the Central Desktop Blog in a few days.
    (this comment was posted from 30,000 feet on Virgin America).

  2. “RTs are ridiculously easy to send….low barrier of entry…..and can be easily abused. Massively redundant…”

    This makes me reflect that people don’t follow spam. Authenticity and value are the currency of social networking. Lots of aspects detract from a stream’s value, RT is not really at the top of the list, if it’s even on the list. A nice thing about a nascent platform like Twitter is that views on things like RT are still evolving.

  3. While RTs can be abused like anything, I find them very useful. Since everyone is not following everything, I see RTs by people I follow of tweets by people that I do not follow and would not see. I discover new people this way. Twitter is a social media so knowledge sharing is a central component of it. I also RT someone I follow for two reasons. First, it is to share this tweet with my followers and a recognition that the person has tweeted something useful. I am pleased when people RT what I write to share it with new people. If I did not want to share this information I would not be putting it on Twitter. The second reason comes from my use of Twitter as a personal knowledge management system. I tweet or RT stuff with links that I find interesting so I can come back to it and perhaps read it more closely and/or write a blog post providing longer commentary. Twitter serves as a useful filter to information. I value both the original thoughts of the people I follow and the stuff they find valueable. I RT a very small percentage of what I read and try to over do it. Now I respect Isaac and those whop share his view. I have written about his excellent work at Central Desktop on numerous occasions. I also understand his concerns. We need even better filters. Twitter is a useful but flawed system. There is too much useless information on Twitter as I said in the E 2.0 conf session. I did not consider it worthwhile until i discovered TweetDeck because it was hard to sort through the useless to find the useful. I hope Twitter continues to improve as it has opened up a new way to hold conversations on the Web.

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