As with virtually everything else on Twitter (and the platform itself), the quote tweet started innocuously enough.
It provided you the opportunity to share a tweet and add additional comments without taking away from your character count, which was especially precious when limited to 140.
You can add some information (or frequently a joke) to an existing tweet. It allowed you to share a tweet and add some context. Instead of confusing followers with a random retweet, you could add a note as to why you found this tweet particularly noteworthy.
Then, as things often do on Twitter, it took a wrong turn. Instead of pointing to others work, people used it grab attention for themselves. More insidiously, quote tweeting became a way to attack and dismiss, instead of inform and edify.
There are two ways quote retweets have done harm to Twitter. One is fairly benign, but the other is what has driven many away from the platform. And if not reigned in, it will do the same to many more.
I recognize the irony of singling someone out for seeking attention for themselves on a platform that is built on saying things publicly for others to read, but there are ways to use Twitter to highlight the work and words of others.
If you see an insightful comment or a funny joke, you can retweet it. No quoting. No adding to it. You can directly share the work of others with your followers.
Or, as many have started doing, you could also quote tweet the thing you want to share and then add some banal words like “Wow” or “Check this out” that adds nothing to the original tweet.
In a small way, you’ve taken away attention from the person who created the content and added yourself as a buffer. You’ve taken something (albeit small) from them for no real reason.
But that is insignificant compared to the other type of negative quote tweeting.
You see someone share an opinion on Twitter with which you disagree, so you quote tweet them and critique their thoughts. Previously, that could start a genuine and healthy discussion about an important subject. That is hardly the case anymore.
When someone—particularly someone with a significant number of followers or followers prone to arguing online—quote tweets a disagreement, they’re calling on their comrades to show the other person just how wrong they are.
I honestly think the vast majority of the worst interactions on Twitter would end if people quoted tweeted less. It has become gasoline poured on our fires of outrage.
Recently, a prominent pastor shared a tweet that when interpreted uncharitably could be read as insensitive and dismissive of others, but the same pastor had written books demonstrating the falsity of the uncharitable interpretation. None of that mattered.
Those outside his theological camp quote tweeted his thoughts—devoid of any context—into the Twitter timelines of their followers, who did the same, and everyone was able to lash out at this pastor for an opinion they didn’t like, but which he didn’t actually hold.
In the past, a specific atheist and I have had cordial discussions and disagreements on Twitter. As soon as he quote tweets me, however, my mentions are filled with hordes of atheist trolls with no desire for discussion only derision.
While we still interact and disagree, he has thankfully stopped quote tweeting me. I believe he stopped because after I brought it to his attention, he noticed what happened. My mentions are much quieter.
At this point, there is no excuse. If when you quote tweet it floods the mentions of the other person with outsized criticism, you know exactly what you are doing every time you do it.
That type of quote tweeting is such a disingenuous way to discuss online because you know what it will unleash. You know it will only serve as a battle cry for your compatriots to attack the one who dared express a divergent opinion online.
Maybe that is occasionally warranted, but when much of your Twitter timeline is quote tweets of those with whom you disagree, you are intentionally serving as an attack signal. Whether you admit it or not, you want to unleash your followers—particularly the ones prone to agitation—on the other person.
What a dehumanizing way to treat the person with whom you disagree and even your own followers, as you use them to express your disapproval.
Social media is always evolving and our use of it must adapt. Because of what quote tweeting has become, we should adjust how we use it.
Some age-old wisdom can be tweaked to fit our current context. Follow the Twitter Golden Rule: Quote tweet as you want to be quote tweeted.