Retweeting the #beatcancer tag this weekend I started mulling over the various dos and don’ts of Twitter. Perhaps it’s because at school and university the pitfalls of plagiarism were drummed into me – The footnote is your friend; always cite your sources – but I was wondering if there is a hard and fast rule on how to retweet? If there isn’t, perhaps there should be?
The ‘power of the retweet’ has a problematic side-effect. It’s very difficult to say anything interesting in 140 characters, but it’s even harder to retweet something interesting without the author’s @ handle pushing you over the 140 limit. So sometimes you’re faced with a difficult situation – to RT or not to RT. Do you remove the author’s handle to free up some characters, thereby publishing the tweet as your own? Or do you change the content, thereby keeping the author’s name but possibly altering how their own words are perceived?
When is it OK to remove the author’s handle? I’d argue never. I’ll often edit the content so it includes an essence of the original and a link. But then this tactic has its own pitfalls – I’ve seen others tweet about how 3rd party editing can change the intention of their original post. But then with #beatcancer different rules were applied. It’s irrelvant where you heard about the campaign – as the outcome was a much bigger issue than ‘who spotted it first’.
But I suppose in general – charity campaigns aside – it’s a question of influence (aren’t all these things?). If you want to be considered influential then you can’t really afford to alienate the people you follow by passing their ‘work’ off as your own. Or can you? If you thought it was interesting, then chances are someone else will and they’ll retweet you – in doing so growing your own influence.
But perhaps I’m overanalysing things. Perhaps a writer’s ego has no place in a connected society. Perhaps we have to give up traditional concepts of ownership and authorship? 100 people can be tweeting the same thing at any given time, so it’s possible that amongst the chaos a couple of posts will be startlingly similar. But who then becomes the author? Or is it even relevant? Perhaps it is the idea that is powerful, not the hand that wields the pen.
If nothing else it looks like we’re just getting closer to testing the hypothesis that if you put enough monkeys in a room with a typewriter, eventually one of them will rewrite Hamlet.