Understanding retweeting on Twitter
As we try to work out how Iranian citizens, activists, journalists, new media propagators, and politically conscious folks are using Twitter to converse about the Iranian election, we need to step back and think about some of the practices that are core to what’s taking place. One of these is retweeting, or the act of spreading a message along inside Twitter. Earlier this week, Scott Golder, Gilad Lotan, and I just finished a descriptive paper on retweeting as a conversational practice:
The purpose of this paper is simple. We wanted to explore retweeting as a conversational practice. In doing so, we highlight just how bloody messy retweeting is. Often, folks who are deeply embedded in the culture think that there are uniform syntax conventions, that everyone knows what they’re doing and agrees on how to do it. We found that this is blatantly untrue. When it comes to retweeting, things get messy. The 140 character constraints introduce new dynamics and people route around a potential limitation is unique ways. But this doesn’t mean that everything is honky dory. There are authorship issues and attribution issues. The fidelity of a message often gets corrupted as it spreads, revealing the ways in which retweeting has become the modern day incarnation of the “Telephone Game.”
This paper is currently under review in an academic setting, but we’re making it available for public commentary and critique. Also, given how confused folks are in the public and mainstream media, we felt that getting this out sooner rather than later might be helpful in clearing up some myths about what’s going on. Retweeting is core to information dissemination on Twitter but how it’s unfolding is more complex than many believe.
Please enjoy! And we welcome any and all feedback!