Last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said he thought Twitter should maybe get rid of its "like" button.

People freaked out. Twitter backed off. It's not happening anytime soon.

But as we're all very belatedly trying to come to terms with whatever the heck it is that social media has done to our society, people are offering all kinds of prescriptions. And now, a writer for The Atlantic has come up with what might be the smartest one for Twitter. 

Don't get rid of "likes." Get rid of retweets, instead.

This would totally rework the incentives that many people have for using Twitter. But ultimately, in a good way. As Taylor Lorenz writes:

The quest to accrue retweets regularly drives users to tweet outlandish comments, extremist opinions, fake news, or worse. Many users knowingly tweet false and damaging information and opinions in an effort to go viral via retweets. 

...

Retweets prey on users' worst instincts. They delude Twitter users into thinking that they're contributing to thoughtful discourse by endlessly amplifying other people's points--the digital equivalent of shouting "yeah, what they said" in the midst of an argument. 

And because Twitter doesn't allow for editing tweets, information that goes viral via retweets is also more likely to be false or exaggerated.

Admittedly, we're getting into radical change territory with this idea. Getting rid of the retweet button would fundamentally change how people interact on Twitter.

But what social media network shouldn't be considering radical change right about now? 

And while I first thought there's no way that Twitter would remotely consider this, Lorenz points out that Dorsey responded with at least ostensible seriousness to one of Kanye West's more sensible suggestions: an option to get rid of publicly viewable follower counts.

Removing retweets however, would be the real potential panacea. An MIT study earlier this year showed that false news (like a report from 2013 that President Obama had been injured in a White House explosion) was 70 percent more likely to go viral via retweets than real news.

Of course, there would be nothing to stop people from just cutting and pasting tweets into new ones. And if tweets, or the information in them, mattered enough to people they'd still do that.

But it might slow down the pace of viral misinformation, and repair a bit of the damage that we've done. 

Anyway it's a smart idea, well worth considering. But until Twitter implements it, if you found this article via a tweet, feel free to retweet. Just while you still can.

Published on: Oct 30, 2018
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