RT and “oldschool RT”

The various types of Twitter Retweeting have gotten me thinking about the dissemination of information on the internet as a form of topic-comment structure.

Back in the olden days of Twitter, there was an organic social construction made when people would copy wholesale someone else’s tweet, post it to their own feed, and attribute it to the original author using the acronym RT, meaning “re-tweet”. Twitter’s developers actually incorporated this into the site’s setup, and now users have the option to directly retweet without having to copy and paste.

However, the “oldschool RT” still exists, and the main way that I’ve seen it used is when users want to add a comment to the original tweet. In the new RT, the comment is implied — that the retweeter agrees (or, if we can cross sites, “Likes”) the tweet enough to boost it with their affirmation. The new RT is the Twitter form of the “Like” option on Facebook and the up-arrow boosting on sites like Reddit, or the elegant use of ^ as a standalone agreement marker in online chat communities.

This signal boosting and adding group affirmation to an utterance is a novel feature of online language use that doesn’t really have a correlate in spoken language. Sure, we can quote people (“Winston Churchill once said…”) but you already have to be relatively famous for this quoting to happen, and frequently the quotes are misquotes or falsely attributed. With features like Twitter’s new RT, we can see the actual utterance being propagated and given collective value.

It’s cool, the Internets.


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