Retweeting, and why I won’t RT your link if you ask me

The splendid Dave Gorman has just blogged on why he doesn’t retweet anything he doesn’t know to be legit. In the post he tells the tale of a Twitter account that popped up ahead of Children In Need promising to donate 50p for every new follower to the BBC appeal.

It’s a cautionary tale on how Twitter can be misused and flags up how something can go viral via the RTs of well-known people.

I’ll go a step further than Dave and say that I don’t retweet anything I’m asked to.

I’m not famous or well-known outside a smallish circle of geeks and Twitter people, but over the years more than 5,000 people have kindly started to follow me. Even with that not-huge number, I get quite a lot of requests. Some of them are polite, some of them are the equivalent of chugging.

The chuggers are the people who send out a stream of identical tweets asking randoms to RT their link. The first thing I do when I get a request from someone I don’t know/recognise is check and see if they’re following me. If they are, I reply saying please don’t ask me to RT because I never do. I’m always happy to talk to people about why I don’t (more on that in a minute).

If they don’t follow me I go and look at their Twitter page. If the tweeter has sent out a bunch of identical tweets, I report them for spam. Harsh? Maybe, but I’m on Twitter for the conversation and the community. Sending out a bunch of tweets to people you don’t follow and haven’t even had the courtesy to say hi to first is spam. It’s the equivalent of walking up to someone who’s engaged in a conversation in the pub with a gang of mates in the pub, barging in and waving your collecting tin under their nose. It’s rude, and I’m quite big on good manners, both offline and online.

So why don’t I RT requests for good causes? One of the reasons is, like Dave, I think it’s impossible to verify that all the requests/links are genuine. I’d rather risk not RTing a genuine link than spam my followers or point them at a scam. Yes, some are immediately evidently kosher, but it’s fairer if I just don’t.

Second, I have a range of charities I support, and I tend to donate to charity by sponsoring mates doing something to raise money. If we’ve talked on Twitter and you’re doing something for charity, ping me the link to your JustGiving page. I don’t promise but I might well bung you a fiver.

Third, I can be a bit contrary in my views. For example, my views on wearing a poppy get an airing every year – that’s not the only thing you might find me a bit counterintuitive on. As a another example, although I probably come across as feminist (I am), I’m not anti-porn, nor anti-strip clubs (with caveats, obv). So there’s a good chance I might not support the position/views of what you’re asking me to RT. I’m usually up for explaining my take on something – do ask. But I won’t RT your link.

Fourth, I’m not a commodity or an RTing service. A while back I explained this to someone (who came under my heading of chugger) who’d rather petulantly said he thought it was fine to “use” me to spread the word about something. Well, it’s not OK to “use” me like that. It’s taking me, my time and my goodwill for granted, and I really hate being taken for granted.

Fifth, I don’t like the undercurrent in society that insists we wear our hearts on our sleeves. I think charity should be private. As for beliefs, I’m happy to talk about mine but in real life I don’t wear any symbols – Aids ribbons, breast cancer ribbons, stop poverty wristbands, whatever. I don’t put Twibbons on my Twitter profile either. I think it’s too easy, too glib, to pin the latest badge to your lapel and go “there, I’ve shown that I care about x or y”. It actually *stops* people thinking about issues, I reckon, if you just in effect tick a box by donning the symbol du jour.

I tweet a lot of links – stuff that catches my eye, things that make me laugh, stories that make me go WTF. I often RT links from people I follow. What all those links have in common is that I’ve been engaged by them and I think they’re worth passing on. I don’t want to spam the kind people who follow me with a load of links to stuff that doesn’t engage me. Think of it as a kind of quality control – if I’ve tweeted a link or RTd someone else’s link or tweet, it’s because I think it’s good or funny or important. The point is that I decide what’s important to me – I don’t want someone else to tell me what is (or should be) important to me.

So please don’t be cross or upset if I say no to your request to RT something. It’s not personal, but it’s something I’ve thought a lot about.