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article imageInventor of Twitter's retweet says it was a terrible idea

By Tim Sandle     Jul 28, 2019 in Internet
Chris Wetherell, the software designer who built Twitter’s “retweet” function, wishes he hadn’t done so. He says that no-one at Twitter had anticipated how this function would alter the way people used the platform.
Chris Wetherell is a U.S. software developer and musician best known as the founder of Google Reader. The then workers for twitter, developing the retweet function, before moving on to co-found Thing Labs and working with Brizzly and Avocado.
Reflecting on the introduction of the retweet button in an interview with BuzzFeed, Wetherell likens it to "handing a four-year-old a loaded weapon." This comes in the context of Twitter being criticized for making it too easy on the platform to spread bullying, hate speech and fake news.
Prior to the invention of the retweet, in 2009, users of Twitter were required to manually retweet a tweet composed by another person. This required much more effort: copying text and typing RT plus the name of the tweeter. When the process became automated, it made life easier for Twitter users but it mean that a popular post could quickly go viral.
Retweets and harassment
A post for something that everyone might need to know about, such as an earthquake, can be rapidly disseminated via the retweet. However, the retweet functionality has also made it easier to share hateful content, sending a blast of angry sound out from an echo chamber across the platform. Twitter has been accused of permitting state actors to influence national elections, plus allowing toxic accounts linked with extremist groups proliferate leading to a rise in racism, misogyny and homophobia.
Wetherell draws on the example of Gamergate, which was an a harassment campaign against women in the games industry. In relation to this and other events he says: "It dawned on me that this was not some small subset of people acting aberrantly. This might be how people behave. And that scared me to death."
How to make Twitter less toxic?
For this and other reasons, Twitter remains is facing pressure to make adjustments to the platform so it becomes a less toxic environment. In response, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey has indicated that Twitter is considering demoting likes and follows.
Outlining the case for a new model in a TED talk, Dorsey said: "Our purpose is to serve the public conversation, and we have seen a number of attacks on it. We’ve seen abuse, we’ve seen harassment, we’ve seen manipulation, automatic and human coordination, misinformation. These were all dynamics that we were not expecting 13 years ago when we started the company.”
Dorsey is aiming for a new model that highlights conversation chains instead of personalities: "Twitter is an interest-based network. What we could do instead is allow you to follow an interest, a trend, a hashtag, or a community."
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