Why stealing jokes on Twitter matters to whiney cry-babies

Earlier today, and admittedly before I’d had my morning coffee, my usually mild manner was threatened by a tweet that trivialised the concept of ‘tweet theft’ and mocked those who take issue with it. I realise a number of you will be reading this with a similar mindset, but why not read on anyway — it might give you some additional material with which to ‘burn’ me.

I won’t link to the original tweet, partly because this is about the mindset rather than that individual, but mainly because I enjoy the irony of posting their thoughts without credit.

People who complain about ‘tweet theft’. Remind me again how much per retweet you’re getting paid.

This opinion jumps straight to the assumption that it’s entirely about money, so let’s address that one first.

The author is correct that sharing of jokes on Twitter is not a direct revenue stream, but neither is creating a painting or writing a book (at least without a generous advance). Like it or not, tweets are a creative art form, and as with others the money only comes when people like your ‘work’ enough to buy it. To do that, they need to see it.

Retweets do lead to exposure, which can lead to offers of work. Many people I know have been approached for (paid) writing jobs purely on the basis of their personal Twitter accounts. Many of them aren’t writers or comedians by trade, but this gives them an opportunity to do something they enjoy and make either essential or additional income. In some cases it has even led to entire career changes. It has genuinely changed lives and bank balances.

As part of my ensuing conversation with the aforementioned tweeter, I was also asked:

but the original tweet is still out there for people to see. If someone with 250 followers does it though, what do you lose?

This is an interesting point, and clearly the impact is unlikely to be so immediate when a smaller account takes the lazy option of copy / pasting (although to those who claim they simply liked the joke and wanted to share it, it should be noted that even that two-step process is more complicated than simply hitting the retweet button).

The problem with this hypothesis is where you draw the line. 250 followers? 1,000 followers? The serendipitous nature of Twitter means that even a ‘small’ account can have a popular tweet, potentially more so than an original it has copied. It’s not just about pride of ownership (although I can’t help feeling that should matter too) — the more copies that emerge, the harder it becomes to source an original.

I’ve seen it likened to repeating jokes in the pub, but I’d suggest it’s a little different. I suspect few interviews begin “Thank you for coming in today, Dave, we’ve enjoyed hearing the gags you’ve been telling your friends at the Red Lion”. A Twitter timeline can, for some, offer a shop window to their writing capabilities. Their following can suggest a consistent level of entertainment.

An account that continuously steals jokes could theoretically grow their audience (we all started at zero, after all), and numerous large ‘content curators’ demonstrate that it’s alarmingly easy to hide blatant theft from thousands, if not millions of people. With enough eyeballs seeing their content, these accounts can find ways to monetise their nefariously-obtained following.

Which brings me to my final point.

People who ‘complain’ about tweet theft aren’t just missing out on recognition, pride and exposure, they’re often watching their own creativity generate advertising revenue for those shameless enough to rip-off writers on an industrial scale. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read “it’s only Twitter” but I think the majority would be somewhat upset to see someone else being paid for their work. Never mind though “it’s only an hour of your billable accountancy work”.

I’ve given up on pursuing stolen tweets. Not because it doesn’t matter, but because I’ll inevitably come out of it branded as immature or trivial by people who have no concept of how it might impact my financial situation, career prospects or ability to feed my future whiney, crying babies.

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If you’d like to see if any of my jokes are worth stealing, or call me a whiney cry-baby, come and find me on Twitter