Quote Tweets are the worst part of Twitter. They deliver undesirable content and misinformation to your feed, and are often abused to harass other users in droves. See, unlike the other features on the site, people use Quote Tweets to share things they hate, instead of things they enjoy. Despite this, Quote Tweets draw lots of engagements, frequently going viral. This means that a significant part of your Twitter experience involves seeing content you strongly dislike. Twitter needs to either seriously rethink how their platform handles Quote Tweets, or remove them entirely.
What Is A Quote Tweet?
In case you don’t know what a Quote Tweet is, here’s a brief summary of how Twitter works:
- Users write short prose, up to 280 characters in length, called Tweets.
- Each user sees a continuous stream of Tweets, ordered by several factors (i.e. time it was posted, or how many comments). This algorithmic feed is called the Timeline.
- Users can follow other users, which is similar to subscribing to a mailing list. Your timeline is mainly influenced by the list of users you follow.
- A user can interact with someone else’s Tweet in many ways. One option, called a Retweet, adds the Tweet to the Timeline of every person who follows you.
- A Quote Tweet is a special kind of Retweet where you can also add your own comment. Your followers see your comment, followed by the original post, in their timelines.
- Sometimes, a Quote Tweet receives more Retweets than the original post, in which case it is sometimes called a Ratio Tweet. Ratio Tweets, in my opinion, do more harm than good, and are the core issue with Quote Tweets.
What’s Wrong With Quote Tweets?
Quote Tweets have a few essential problems:
- Every time someone posts a Quote Tweet, the original post is also shared. Depending on what the original post was, this can be problematic.
- Quote Tweets can be Retweeted. Everyone who Retweets a Quote Tweet, is also Retweeting the original post.
- People who interact with a Quote Tweet, might not have actually opened the original post. If the original post contains a link, everyone who sees the Quote Tweet can see the link.
- Whether by design or due to a bug, on iOS and Web, a Quote Tweet will still appear on your timeline even if you have blocked, muted, or reported the content. I’m not sure whether this occurs on Android.
How Quote Tweets Spread Misinformation
Because of these problems, Quote Tweets can spread misinformation and abuse, even if inadvertently. During the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Twitter actually did rethink the way Quote Tweets worked, but in my opinion failed to address the root cause of misinformation and harassment on its platform. According to the Independent article I linked previously, it seems Twitter might agree:
The company said that it “hoped that this would help reduce the potential for misleading information to spread on our service” but did not see a significant difference.Adam Smith, The Independent
The reason Quote Tweets are so problematic when it comes to misinformation is the fact that many Twitter users use them as a way to call out people they disagree with. These “Ratio Tweets”, which are Quote Tweets that receive a higher level of engagement than the original post, often get thousands of Retweets. Remember, every person who sees the Quote Tweet also sees the original post, so controversial Tweets go viral quickly. If the original post contains misinformation, then a Quote Tweet broadcasts that information to thousands, or maybe even millions, in a very short period of time. In the midst of a global pandemic, where the rapid spread of misinformation is a threat to public health, and just a couple of years after social media was used to influence an election, a feature like this spells trouble.
To make matters worse, there is currently no way to prevent seeing misinformation spread via Quote Tweet, because Quote Tweets ignore whether you have already blocked or reported the original content. This forces thousands of people to see abusive content on their Timelines every single day. For some users, this can even mean continuous exposure to material that is potentially triggering. Viral content is Twitter’s bread and butter, but without serious changes, misinformation can continue to go completely unchecked. After all, it’s impossible to manually moderate every single one of the millions of Tweets made each day.
Quote Tweets Incentivize Sensationalism
Since creating controversy is such a quick way to get Twitter engagement, a lot of carefully-crafted headlines go viral. Certain publications, like TMZ and the Daily Mail, receive thousands of website visits through Twitter per day. They also receive thousands of Quote Tweets from people who never visited their website. Not everyone who sees the original post will actually engage with its content, and this poses a problem.
Accidental Misinformation In Tweets Cannot Be Corrected
Newspapers sometimes have to issue corrections to claims they made in error on their sites. However, Tweets cannot be edited, which creates a dilemma. There is no way to correct a Tweet besides deleting it, but deleting a Tweet means losing all the engagements you already received. If, instead of deleting your post outright, you correct it in a comment below your post, not everyone will see it.
Quote Tweets Scale Harassment And Abuse
Quote Tweets also open the door to users getting harassed by large numbers of people. Because large numbers of people who likely disagree with you are now seeing your post, you are likely to receive an influx of hate comments. In many cases, people have even received death threats or been doxed. The only way to prevent people from Quoting your Tweets is to turn your account private. This prevents you from getting any engagements besides Likes and Comments, which ultimately prevents you from connecting to any other people on the platform.
How Twitter Should Fix Quote Tweets
If Twitter never changes how Quote Tweets work, then misinformation and abuse will continue to wreak havoc on the app. I have some ideas of my own about how they can be changed.
- First, make Quote Tweets in the timeline respect a user’s blocking/muting preferences. Nobody should have to be forced to see content they already opted out of seeing.
- Second, disable the Retweet option for Quote Tweets. While a bit extreme, this would significantly reduce the Ratio Tweet effect. This would prevent a lot of misinformation from going viral, because it places a hard cap on the speed at which it spreads.
- Third, when a user sees a Quote Tweet and opens up the original post, they should be prevented from adding a comment or Quote Tweet of their own. Though the most determined people could circumvent this, I believe it would prevent a lot of people’s knee-jerk reaction to Quote Tweet every single post they object to.
- Fourth, there needs to be a way for people to know if they unknowingly interacted with misinformation. For example, if a user Quote Tweets a publication’s post, and that publication later deletes the Tweet or corrects their claim, users should be notified. If not, then people who previously saw the incorrect information may continue to believe it.
- Finally, when a user sees a Quote Tweet and opens up the original post, they either should be completely prevented from directly visiting that person’s profile, or they should be allowed to see that person’s profile, but not be able to comment on the posts directly. This prevents people from going through someone’s profile just to harass them.
Let me know your opinion in the comments.