2 Simple Unwritten Rules of Twitter Etiquette Everyone Shou— MUST Follow

(No, we’re not doing Twitter portmanteaus. Nope.)

Jan 15, 2015 · 4 min read

1. Use the Reply Feature

Twitter’s reply feature is a secret weapon for contextualizing tweets beyond the 140-character limit.

Not a lot of people know this, but when you reply to a tweet, you create a link between the two tweets.

This feature has a long history of being utterly broken, which turned many including me away from using it—even after Twitter fixed it, and third-party developers worked around it.

Twitter would announce the thread-line feature to emphasize this component of the platform:

Twitter threads now rearranged the tweets in a timeline to group those that were linked, which was usually inter-user conversation.

Novelty aside, the threads displayed an underlying system that was already in place. However, up until that point, you could only see the “linked tweets”, if you visited the page for individual tweet.

If a tweet relates to another, write the new tweet as a reply to the other:

The result of replying to the top-most tweet with the tweets below.

You do this by using the Reply button on the page of the individual tweet—it tends to work in third-party clients, but there may be exceptions.

Use cases for this include:

  • Tweetstorms and Twitter rants. Because even if you write your tweets in rapid succession, other people’s tweets will blend into your stream profound insight in the timelines of the people who follow you.
  • Corrections and contextualizations. Some prefer to “unpublish” a wrong tweet, especially during breaking news. But with the reply feature, you can also reply to the tweet and contextualize it.
  • Save characters by linking. Because you don’t have to enter a URL for the tweet you want to link to, you save 23 characters. Same for the @handle you maybe able to save.

You are guaranteed to link the two tweets, but I’ve found Twitter’s threading to be extremely irregular.

This guy gets it.

Twitter is not a parallel universe where the rules of journalism and basic human decency are null and void, so use the feature to cite your Twitter source and give them due credit.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that some Twitter clients send an alert to the replied-to user.

Do this especially when you “RT” and “MT” tweets and take partial credit. But instead of manual retweets, you should …

2. Use the Retweet Feature

Everyone thinks they have the Smart Take on a given subject, but in the hypothetical, purely academic, scenario that you don’t have anything to add to a discussion or story, you are better off

  1. Not tweeting anything at all. #nevertweet
  2. Retweeting a popular tweet with the gist.

Why retweet and not post, say, the breaking news story yourself? Because you’ll end up with

  • Dozens of tweets saying the same thing.
  • Unsourced statements that can’t be verified.
  • If the retweeted tweet is deleted, you won’t have to do so yourself, as Twitter removes the tweet from your timeline and user profile.

Of course, the worst people in the world are not those who tweet their own version of the same joke for the fiftieth time; that distinction belongs to the people who rather than retweet that tweet with the thousands of retweets, add their own “RT” seal of approval. Such users are deplorable human beings who belong in The Hague.

History’s greatest monster.

This doesn’t mean that RTs and MTs can’t have merit, but you have to add something to the original tweets such as a humour, context or sass before (or after) the quoted tweet:

Gold star for appropriate use of manual RT AND a reply link to the original.

And on a final note, understand retweeting manual RTs makes you partially complicit; spend ten seconds trying to find the original tweet and retweet or respond to that instead; anything else is kinda mean to the author(s).


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“That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.” Recurring topics include privacy, security, journalism, and technology.