Twitter RTs Are Not A Matter Of Etiquette

I can’t believe I’m actually writing this.

Last Wednesday, Vulture published an essay asking “Does Retweeting Praise Make You A Monster?” It outlines certain rules that have gone unspoken on the social media platform Twitter, but that everyone seems to get very opinionated about, from “don’t steal jokes” to “if someone follows you, you must follow them back.” But one idea that a number of people seem to think is a massive “breach of etiquette” is retweeting praise about yourself.

Author Adam Sternbergh thankfully concludes that it’s a bit of a silly idea, but not before spending a couple thousand words asking various writers and Twitter personalities about the subject. The statement that caught me was by novelist Gabriel Roth, who said:

“I think of Twitter as a cocktail party, and a certain amount of subtle bragging and self-advancement is acceptable at a cocktail party but if you show up and just stand there holding a big poster advertising your book, who’s going to invite you back? Imagine meeting someone at a party who opened a conversation with, ‘This fellow Larry Smidgen from Minneapolis says my book is laugh-out-loud funny — but also surprisingly moving!’”

What struck me is that I’ve heard this comparison of Twitter to a cocktail party before. People have expressed joy at it being a place to mingle, to make jokes, to meet new people and talk about new ideas–that sounds like a great cocktail party to me. But I don’t quite think all the rules of a cocktail party work. After all, in a cocktail party it’s harder to enter or exit a conversation. There’s body language to pay attention to. There are things, for better or worse, that you would say on the Internet, at arms-length from any immediate reaction, that you may not say to someone’s face. It may feel like a party sometimes, but it’s also an entirely different way of having a conversation.

For instance, you can’t retweet anything in a face to face conversation.

Despite having social media platforms like this for well over a decade, many people still operate under the impression that people are always their true selves online. That you are speaking to a person, and not that person’s crafted, representative self. How distant that crafted self is from their true self is different depending on the topic and on the person, but the performative aspect requires at least a second of thought and craft to whatever message one writes, whether it’s about your baby’s first tooth or your new book. People also forget that this is fluid. Twitter may be your personal confession booth one day, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be your publicity platform the next.

Editor Kurt Andersen said in the piece that “it’s a matter of not overdoing it.” I admit having been annoyed when my feed is filled with 50 retweets from the same person, whatever the subject, just as I would be if someone dominated the conversation at a cocktail party. The difference is that online, I can close the tab.

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