The rise of the retweet junkie

I thought I’d tweeted off my chest the things that appalled me about the ‘be first or be right’ social media minefield following the shattering horror of the Newton shootings. 
 But then I read this post by Andy Dickinson, and it struck a chord. It made me realise I hadn’t blogged a lot recently because I was either posting tweets or just using Diigo‘s bookmarks-to-blog option and not bothering to otherwise update my blog. 

 Writing my thoughts down here has only ever brought me clarity, and wise words of advice or support from people who stopped by to read them. I don’t have time to do the tool exploration and testing I used to on here (which, incidentally, I really miss) but if I can’t find 10 minutes a week to consider the stuff that’s annoyed, inspired, smacked me between the eyes with its brilliance or helped me shape how I think, do or feel about journalism, then it’s a poor look-out.  

Cheers, Andy.

Anyway, to return to where we came in the social media ‘first or right’ issue. I tweeted this a few hours after the shootings, which I had to follow on my iPhone, as I was travelling (and mostly followed via Twitter) 

I was angry and perplexed that opinion and rumours were being peddled and passed on as if they were nuggets of Golden Truth. 

Even Jeff Jarvis got himself tied in knots after taking on trust the Twitter account of the (wrongly) identified shooter was genuine and real.
It wasn’t the right account. hell, it wasn’t even the right name. Cue this.

But mistakes like that aside – and taking as read the fact that how people react on a social network is but a sideshow to the enormity of this tragedy – what I saw on Twitter on Friday night was depressing. 
It wasn’t about racing to share information, and I actually don’t think it was about being first, a lot of the time; it was about ego, and the retweet boost. 

Journalists can be needy creatures. When I was a reporter I wanted the front page; not much better than landing a belting story and being told it’s going to be the splash – it’s Hack Crack. 

On Twitter, Hack Crack becomes Retweet Smack, and it’s available to all, courtesy of the site’s Interactions option which shows just who and how many times your tweet has been favourited or shared.

Four or five years ago, I was sitting down with journalism students and urging them to use social media to raise their profiles, and market their work and themselves. 
I still believe that’s vital, but I also think the whole ‘be your own brand!’ clarion call has helped create RT monsters. 

RT monsters don’t need news breaks to exist – their bible is Favstar, and you’ve probably encountered them on a day-to-day basis. 
Typically, they’re the user who takes your Twitpic link, deletes your tweet, and reposts it with their own, or they steal others’ jokes and ideas, and post them as their own – Twitter’s Witty Writers brigade gets very vocal about this. 

Retweet junkies abound on Twitter. I think Pat Smith summed up the issue of neediness and validation perfectly with this, during a discussion about the Newton Twitter frenzy:

Validation – now there’s a thing social media was made for: How many followers do you have? How often do you get retweeted? Who, exactly, are your followers – any good ones? What’s your Klout score, your Favstar ranking? Who likes your Instagram? 

Personally, I want my journalists to validate facts, not themselves. You can be a brand without letting it become the most important thing about you.

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