Retweets Are Trash
A modest proposal to improve Twitter — and perhaps the world
A couple of months ago, I made a small tweak to my Twitter account that has changed my experience of the platform. It’s calmer. It’s slower. It’s less repetitive, and a little less filled with outrage. All of these improvements came about because I no longer see retweets.
When I joined Twitter, in late 2007, it was still a new medium — and a fun one. I felt as though we early users were discovering its potential, and creating its shared language. At its best, Twitter could feel like your “dream community,” as the writer Kathryn Schulz put it, filled with interesting people who were interested in the same things you were.
The retweet began as a user convention. People would write “Retweet” (or “RT”) and paste in another person’s post. This was cumbersome, but it also meant those words would go out next to your name and photograph. People were selective about what they chose to retweet. When Twitter introduced a retweet button, in 2009, suddenly one click could send a post careening through the network. The automatic retweet took Twitter’s natural tendency for amplification and cranked it up.
Somewhere along the line, the whole system started to go haywire. Twitter began to feel frenetic, unhinged, and — all too often — angry. Some people quit. Others, like Schulz, cut way back. I felt the same urge, but I wanted to do something less extreme, something that would allow me to keep the baby, even as I drained the bathwater. So I began to take note each time I experienced a little hit of outrage or condescension or envy during a Twitter session. What I found was that nearly every time I felt one of these negative emotions, it was triggered by a retweet.
Twitter has a tool that lets you turn off retweets from one person at a time. But I follow thousands of people, so my office mate, who happens to be a skilled programmer, wrote a script for me that turned off retweets from everybody. Retweets make up more than a quarter of all tweets. When they disappeared, my feed had less punch-the-button outrage. Fewer mean screenshots of somebody saying precisely the wrong thing. Less repetition of big, big news. Fewer memes I’d already seen a hundred times. Less breathlessness. And more of what the people I…