New Tricks: Does a re-tweet equal an endorsement?

June 23rd, 2009

I was just reading this post by Julie Posetti over at PBS’ Mediashift blog, and this section jumped out at me:

When I raised concerns this week about the practice of tweeters who openly identify as professional journalists re-tweeting without verification, in the context of the indiscriminate dissemination of tweets claiming to emanate from Iran, I found myself engaged in a lively discussion on Twitter. I asserted that when Patrick LaForge, an editor at the New York Times, re-tweeted (without acknowledgement of verification or absence thereof) a list of Iranian tweeters sourced from expert blogger Dave Winer (who had, in turn, passed on the list without verifying its contents) it amounted to an approval of that list, LaForge disagreed. NYU’s Jay Rosen then reminded me not to expect open systems like Twitter to behave in the same manner expected of editorial systems.

But while I agree with Rosen, my concern wasn’t directed at the unmediated Twittersphere. Rather it was directed at the way journalists approach this flood of information.

I learned this lesson firsthand from James Janega, one of my reporters when I was over at Tribune Interactive. Last year, when he was down in New Orleans covering Hurricane Gustav on James quickly defused a rumor that was swirling around about residents without identification not being allowed to evacuate the city. Since Gustav was the first large hurricane to strike New Orleans since Katrina, this had the potential to be an incendiary story.

Except it wasn’t true.

James did what any reporter would do: He picked up the phone. But we found out about the rumor through our social media contacts. (Here’s a great interview with James on JD Lasica’s blog, SocialMedia.biz)

So here’s a quick poll for you: Do you think a re-tweet equals an endorsement? Why? What’s your take?

Would love to post some answers! (Click here to take the survey.)

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Entry Filed under: New Tricks,Twitter

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com/ Robert Quigley

    Yes, I think a retweet does equal an endorsement, at least to a degree. Whether we want them to or not, I've noticed people treating what others retweet as original posts.

    In my opinion, a big part of the value that journalists can bring to the Twittersphere (and elsewhere) is the verification of facts. Twitter is notorious for spreading rumors, mostly through retweets. If you're a journalist, people should be turning to you on Twitter for what's really going on, not for passing along unverified information.

  • http://www.twitter.com/marjae marja

    I wouldn't say that retweets always equal endorsements, though there is an assumption that the person retweeting the material to some degree agrees with it (unless otherwise stated). I also think this retweet issue has a lot to do with the perceived credibility of the retweeter. If he/she is a journalist, or someone respected in their field, they are sub-consciously expected to have a greater degree of responsibility than the everyday tweeter.

    I don't always agree with the subject material I RT, but usually either find it personally interesting, or think it would provide value to my readers.

    I also try to provide credits in my RTs as often as possible, and dislike it when I see a tweet by one person, followed by the exact same tweet by another person in my tweet stream with no credit given. Guess who I'm unfollowing?

  • Matt Busse

    To me, a re-tweet with no added comment simply says, “I think this is interesting; check it out.” It does not automatically mean, “I agree with what this writer is saying,” or even, “I believe this to be true.”

    Of course, if a note is added to the end of the re-tweet, like a self-explanatory “so true!” then the intent behind the re-tweet can be inferred pretty easily.

  • David Weaver

    Caveat Lector.

  • http://technosailor.com Aaron Brazell

    I use retweet as a “Here's something to think about” measure. I retweet many things that I agree and disagree with and, sometimes, I retweet things that I have no idea about.

    Professional journalists probably have to be a little more careful but, if there's room, a comment or hashtag could be added to disseminate position.

    Example:

    RT: @xyztwitterer Steve Jobs back at Apple soon http://examp.le/short (#unverified #rumor)

  • http://www.loudpoet.com glecharles

    I view RTs without commentary as an endorsement, especially from a journalist or reporter. @anncurry has been a good example of how newspeople should approach Twitter. They should add value via confirmation, or debunking, of information, not adding to the noise by perpetuating rumors.

  • http://www.twitter.com/iptib Scott Kleinberg

    That's an excellent question and something I've thought about. By the traditional definition, retweeting is supposed to be the equivalent of forwarding an e-mail. OK, fine, but things have changed since Twitter became popular … when you retweet what someone else says, you effectively say it. The original tweeter's name is eventually left off and it looks as though it's your own work.

    That said, the above example of someone retweeting a list of names without verification goes against everything journalists know and do. On my iPhone blog, I'm always asked why I don't print the same information found on other sites. And I tell those people the same thing: That I'm in the process of verifying it and that without verification I won't print it. People grimace at that – they think it's ridiculous they are reading it somewhere else and therefore it must be true. But oh how many times those people have come back to me and thanked me for finding out the truth.

    Now they trust me.

    And that's the great relationship with any journalist/newspaper/media outlet … you gain trust based on what you do and how you prove yourself and as our toolset changes and grows with the advent of social media, Twitter is no exception to that rule. Not everyone is going to be Walter Cronkite but people trusted him. He took his role seriously.

    There are Twitter breaking news sites that I absolutely refuse to retweet because the information is nothing more than someone's initial reaction to a story. Sometimes the information I retweet is a few minutes old — perish the thought, right? – because I'm verifying.

    So to get back to the original question, yes … a re-tweet is an endorsement in this industry. Thinking of it in the eyes of a typical journalist-reader relationship, when you retweet something from someone else you are essentially quoting that person.

    And to answer the obvious follow-up question … yes. If I mistakenly retweet something that I find out is wrong, I tweet a correction.

    I call myself a social mediaologist because I love the name. But I have a Masters in journalism and communication and I take that very seriously. No matter what happens to the print media, I always have my morals and beliefs and those come first. I'll worry about gaining followers later.

  • http://www.socialmediaclub.org/ Kristie Wells

    This is actually the Social Media Club Question of the Week – where we ask how do you determine which tweets you can trust, and which you can't – mostly based around the #iranelection? http://bit.ly/SMCQ15

    Personally, I don't retweet anything I don't know for a fact as I don't need to be first with the news, but I do need to make sure I am sending around correct news.

    I agree with Robert that this is a huge opportunity for journalists to take the information flowing through the socnets and VERIFY it. Then report it. There is a reason I still watch the news. I presume it to be true.

    I do not believe everything I read on Twitter.

  • http://dailydaley.windycitizen.com/ Anna Tarkov

    I feel that a retweet is absolutely an endorsement, whether it's to do with news or not. That's actually one of the reasons I rarely retweet things. I usually only do it if it's a very trusted source or someone I know.

    In the case of a professional journalist, I think they should absolutely be more careful when retweeting something without checking it out first. There's already enough doubt about the veracity of official news reports. Journalists shouldn't add to it by potentially spreading unsubstantiated rumors.

  • http://OnlineMarketerBlog.com/ DJ

    This is a good topic.

    A re-tweet is an endorsement in a sense, but not one equivalent to something in print, for instance.

    People follow me because I share the latest/best news in one niche (marketing). Sometimes I write that content; most of the time I don't. They know that. I know that. But they read my re-tweets because they know I've read it and thought it worthy.

    It's like a friend recommending a movie. You aren't expected to love every single movie your friend recommends, but you listen because most of the time they're pretty right on. You share preferences and a RT is an extension of that recommendation.

  • http://Lotay.com/ @Lotay

    No, a RT does not equal an endorsement.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com dan360man

    Some responses to the survey so far:

    - Only an endorsement if preceded by such, i.e. “Agreed – RT @…”

    - Because essentially we show people who we are by our tweets, the good and the bad. We should all tweet responsibly and be sure to respect the power of social media.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com dan360man

    Especially with the Iran Election, there was a great chance for journalists to prove their mettle. And that's where it is — discovering, verifying…and THEN reporting the facts.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com dan360man

    I have a Master's degree too, you know, but you don't hear me bragging. ;-)

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com dan360man

    I like that #unverified tag. I think I may start using that.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com dan360man

    Agreed.

  • http://www.rustypalm.wordpress.com/ @russpalmer

    Yes, unless the person is just RTing for the sake of RTing….for instance: someone who solely retweets, or someone that retweets right after following you, just so that you follow them back (those people suck)

  • JimAkin

    I'd read a “blind” retweet — one without any comment attached — as an endorsement, or at least a recommendation to check out the content (with a presumption that it's legit). But I think clever retweeting — “Bogus! RT@GreatPrevaricator: …” or “Bogus? RT@DubiousSource: …” — lets tweeters acknowledge the twitgeist without giving it credence or total validation.

  • http://almightylink.ksablan.com/ Kevin Sablan

    Just as I can count on some print publications to always publish rumors, I expect verified information to come from Twitter users who have a track record of passing on facts, or properly labeling unverified data.

    In the case of non-breaking news, analysis, or opinion, I expect retweeted links to point to thoughtful or insightful destinations, but I don't interpret those links or re-tweets as an endorsement for the content.

    Personally, I share many links to posts that bring up points that I find interesting, even if I disagree with the overall message. It's important to share good thinking from all sides of a story.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com dan360man

    If only everyone had the patience to do that, Kevin.

  • http://derekpeplau.com/ Derek Peplau

    In general the RT does constitute an endorsement unless the person re-tweeting adds some editorial comment in their tweet (comments following a pipe character: | or [enclosed in brackets] are two common ways I've seen of setting apart YOUR thoughts from the content you're re-tweeting. Absent anything you append to the (possibly shortened) tweet you're re-tweeting, I assume the re-tweeter endorses what they're passing on to their followers or placing into a search stream via adding a hash tag, etc.

    If the re-tweeter is a journalist, however, that changes things a bit. Seems like Journalists should either come up with some brief designation to indicate unconfirmed status of something they're re-tweeting, or maintain a journalist's account and a personal account. If you're tweeting as a journalist, it is (in my mind) implicit that you are passing along what you believe to be true statements.

  • http://www.thehotiron.com/ Mike Maddaloni – The Hot Iron

    Why does anyone say anything? How many times have you (or anyone else reading this) said something, and then when asked why you said it, you didn't have a clear answer?!

    A retweet can be an endorsement or it cannot be. I retweet to pass something along to others from someone whom they may not be following. In some cases it is an endorsement.

    Honestly, this is the most I have thought about RTs since I was first introduced to it!

    mp/m

  • http://www.theliberaloc.com/ Chris Prevatt

    No, A retweet is simply the redistribution of someone elses information. It is up to the reader to track back to the original source and determine for themselves the veracity of the story.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com dan360man

    Agreed, but I find that many Tweeters are quite lazy. Many are too lazy to even do a damn Google search. (Have you seen this phenomenon too?)

    Not that I mind or anything. Sometimes I can be this lazy!

  • http://twitter.com/joeschmitt Joe Schmitt

    I think retweets are endorsements, unless the person qualifies it in some way. And I think in general it's always best if you add some commentary to a link or tweet showing why you think it's important to pass on. Though there are plenty of caveats – if you're passing a link to a news site, then responsibility for fact checking belongs with that organization I'd say. Sharing links or stories is definitely taking some sort of responsibility for the content – after all, you want credit for showing it to others. If you forward an email or tweet that alleges Obama was schooled by Muslims and is therefore a Manchurian Candidate, then you believe it to be true, hope it to be true, or want others to think it is in order to advance your own agenda.

  • http://www.greaterfalls.com/ david

    A journo should retweet WITH a disclaimer of some sort. For instance, instead of simply retweeting a rumor or unverified tweet, a journo should append the retweet with something like (unconfirmed) or (FYI-not sourced yet). Eats a few of the precious 140 characters, but probably worth it.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com/ Daniel

    So you check every link before you re-Tweet it, eh? I’d say you’re in the minority, then. Most people don’t!

    This comment was originally posted on Movie Marketing Madness

  • Chris

    @daniel: For the most part I do. If I’m going to put my stamp of approval – and that’s very much how I view re-tweets – I’m going to make sure it’s something I would have passed along myself. But that’s just me and maybe I’m odd that way.

    This comment was originally posted on Movie Marketing Madness

  • Pingback: socialized blog » The Sick Culture of the Twitter Retweet

  • Patrick LaForge

    Interesting question, bad example. The list that was linked in my tweet was basically a Twitter search, the very definition of caveat emptor. And certainly anyone using Twitter knows that account identities and locations are unverified. Anyone who has ever put a hashtag in a tweet or linked to a Google/Twitter search URL has essentially done the same thing. I do think the question of whether a retweet is an endorsement is an interesting topic. Even though I think a retweet just means “interesting, check it out,” I understand not everyone does, and I exercise care in retweeting. There were many RTs that were questionable re: Iran, but this was not one of them.

  • Patrick LaForge

    Is a link to a Google search an endorsement of the results?

  • http://www.intellectualpoison.com/ Erik

    Retweets of breaking news are to be taken with a big grain of salt. I rarely retweet breaking news but I often retweet interesting and/or funny stuff.

    This comment was originally posted on socialized

  • http://holidaycheck.nl/ Gijsbert Anthony

    Retweet for news can be great if it refers to a source via a link. Else is comparable with mouth to mouth communication, which is very common.. so why not with tweets? All information is relatively inaccurate, consider important publishers and newspapers who post contradicting articles all the time. At least one of those is false, and both can be untrustworthy.

    This comment was originally posted on socialized

  • K

    No, a retweet is not an endorsement. It just says: Hey! Look what I'm reading.

  • http://blogs.conchango.com/pauldawson Paul Dawson

    A retweet is a retweet, simple as that.
    What it definitely implies is that the retweeter found the content to be ‘of interest’ in some way shape or form.
    But this is Twitter – so anything passed on is, what it is, it’s a tweet; not a news story, not a fact-checked thesis, just what somebody chose to write in 140 characters or less.
    So, it’s up to you how you deal with that tweet or retweet, and your judgment is based on what you know of the retweeter and what you can perceive from its source.
    I certainly don’t treat any RT, or Tweet for that matter as gospel truth, unless I’ve clicked through and checked its source. Given the nature of Twitter, being a light touch medium, we all know that RT’s probably haven’t been checked by the retweeter, and we also know that some retweeters are more conscientious than others.
    In and of itself, a retweet, is simply a retweet, and it definitely implies that someone found it interesting, and therefore, so might you…
    Oh, and check out #fakeRTs if you want a new take on this… http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23fakeRTs

    This comment was originally posted on socialized

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com dan360man

    I think there are better ways to do that.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com/ Daniel

    I can’t believe I just saw that you posted this. (For some reason, it must not have been coming through on my Google Analytics, but I found it through Tweetmeme.)

    I still think this is up in the air. Personally, I like to see people verify sources, etc. before blindly re-tweeting unconfirmed news.

    This comment was originally posted on socialized


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