When I committed the dick move of stealing RTs

Update (November 17, 2013): As so many have pointed to this fact already, manual RT (with credit, without which it is simply plagiarism) could easily fall under ‘Fair Use’, even if tweets are not necessarily copyrightable. A wonderfully named website – Can You Copyright A Tweet – has some really good arguments on this.

The question is not: Are Tweets Copyrightable. The question is: Is This Tweet Copyrightable. The copyrightability of Tweets is not dependent on the fact that they are Tweets. Rather, it?s dependent on the analysis of the Tweet in question. The all-encompassing response that all Tweets are either protected or not protected is misguided. The real response is that it depends. However, when you analyze most Tweets, they would never individually pass copyright muster.

Many people believe they own everything they post online, be it Tweets, Facebook status, or whatever. The truth is that most people are most likely incorrect in their assumption. I guess the bigger question is what would you do even if you did own a Tweet?

Given this background, I’m inclined to believe that worrying about manual RTs stealing RTs that legitimately belong to you (!) seems like the real dick move.

This, even when there is no monetary value for those RTs… enough to possibly cry hoarse over it. If there was, you would,
(a) not be posting that content freely and/or
(b) clearly mention that part in your bio, perhaps!

Now, why is this legal point of view relevant in what is essentially an ethics-based debate? Because, we seemt o be discussing the ethics of Twitter RTs when there is no commonly agreed rules governing it. It’s all a bit too convenient to debate it based on what resides in one’s own head. In the absence of such commonly agreed guidelines, it may be useful to look at it in a place where rules do exist, even if they apply only weakly – the law.

Original post:

Exhibit 1:

























Exhibit 2:
































Wait, there’s more!

Exhibit 1.1:


















And, Exhibit 2.1:











Helpful, final prelude before the damned blog post starts!

Urban dictionary’s definition of ‘dick move‘: An action by one male to another male friend which violates understood social expectations, especially where the transgressor obtains a slight advantage in comparison with a relatively large inconvenience imposed upon the aggrieved party.

Now, let me get to the point.

No, I’m not going to ask you if that is a ‘dick move’ or not, from my side. I assume it is not, but the two people mentioned above (one phrased it jovially and politely, and the other put it abrasively) assume it is, for whatever reason. It’d not deter me from stopping this ‘practice’, but I’m sure it’d enrage them if they see more people doing it.

So, that is why I’m not going to throw open the question to hear if more people think that I was right (or wrong). Instead, I’m simply going to explain my point of view about this act.

As someone who has been advising and working with brands on ‘social media engagement’ (go ahead, laugh!) since 2008-09, I (like many other people) have moved on from being enamored by number of Facebook Likes, number of shares on Facebook (native shares, where a person spends half a second to share) and number of native RTs. Whatever the number, it generally does not interest me anymore.

They are still used as metrics for ‘engagement’, but I beg to differ. I wanted ‘comments’ on Facebook to be the yardstick for engagement.

Then brands started asking a dead stupid question fully aware that the world knows the answer (like those 3 questions added to a slogan writing contest in the pre-social media era) and comments started pouring in. That become boring to me too – I found it to be gaming the system to get comments. Nothing wrong, but with every brand doing it, it was getting boring.

Twitter introduced native RT and it became easier to pass on something through multiple networks. Native RTs also helped get over the word count problem. Consider native RTs as the Share button on Facebook – if not for that, you need to get the URL of that person’s Facebook post (after checking if it is a public post or not, by trying it in a non-logged in browser; else the link won’t work!!) and then add the URL in your post and then… say something on your own. Tedious, no?

Yeah, but I would like you to focus on the last part – that, ‘say something of your own’. I’m actually obsessed with getting people to say something… have a point of view… share a perspective of their own. As against nodding their head in multiple directions, which is the offline equivalent of a Facebook Like or a Native RT.

Nodding head, Facebook Like, Native RTs… they are what we joke about people ‘liking’ a message that is about someone’s death. They are what we joke about wishing someone on their birthday by clicking on the button Facebook helpfully thrusts in our face on their birthday.

Because these acts are effortless, they have become a laughing stock (ideally, they should not be – they are just part of the evolution in interpersonal communication via social media). They are assumed to be so simple as a task that the simplicity robs away any seriousness of intent. Or so we claim, in general. The usual follow-up is, ‘If he was really serious, instead of liking that post, he’d offer a comment of condolence’, or, ‘If she really wanted to wish him, she’d call or message, instead of sharing a default template’.

Now, let me see the other perspective. The allegation here is that I stole RTs that legitimately belongs to the original tweet. Why would I do that? Because I’m an attention whore? Or, I’m an RT abuser? Or, I’m keen on taking credit for something that I don’t own, but grudgingly give the source some credit and still manage to make it seem like it is mine? Complex, I know, but bear with me. Or, simply put, I’m a dick, as alleged here.

These are valid perspectives and I won’t argue against them at all. All I can do is merely add my perspective on it and let both points of view float so that you could make your own point of view (I did say I’m obsessed with people having their own perspective, didn’t I?).

When I retweet something (a non-native RT, btw), I usually add something on my own. Most usual additions are ‘+1’ (or another contextually relevant number, for fun), ‘Hahahahahaha’, ‘Bwuhahahahaha’ or something really more meaningful than these three.. some content that extends the conversation.

With +1 (or any number), I believe (you could argue, but this is my belief) that I’m leaving traces of personality with the original tweet. It says I agree, in rudimentary terms. I’d love to say more in context, but sometimes there’s not enough characters left to do that. Or, perhaps the original tweet itself was so succint and perfect that I have nothing more to add beyond a +1.

With Hahahahaha or Bwuahahaha, I’m actually laughing. I have tweeted this before, but when I use those (or LOL, ROTFL etc.) I’m laughing too, while tweeting. I genuinely am laughing while tweeting those – honest. Laughter is infectitious and I see it as how I see other tweets with Hahahahaha in them. I rarely not look at that hearty a laugh on Twitter, particularly from people I like/trust amongst those I follow.

With actual points of view, I had felt the urge to add something and so I do!

All this is tough given Twitter’s limitations in terms of character count, but that’s part of the magic of Twitter as a platform.

Coming to the two specific examples above, the first one is more about tone and phrasing. @yesdeekay had framed it in a simple format (IMO) and I wanted to add context to it, about who exactly alleges Rahman’s music to be something that ‘grows on you’. It is usually Rahman fans defending their idol, particularly when a soundtrack is being ripped apart immediately after release.

I have no idea about @yesdeekay’s musical inclinations, but I do have a music blog and I’d surely like to use this opportunity to add my perspective or context that goes slightly beyond the original tweet. As for not natively retweeting @Failgunner’s tweet, well, what can I say? I was looking at making the description sharper, from my perspective – sort of my way of asking people to focus on the funniest part of that image. Quite a few others have added on to my tweet with additions like, ‘Well done India… smh pervs‘, ‘#epic‘, ‘BWAHAHA‘, ‘Sad just sad‘ etc.

@yesdeekay is absolutely justified in arguing that it is ‘dick move’ (using @Failgunner’s phrase, in a non-native RT way, incidentally) because he sees it as someone opting for a more laborious move than just clicking on the RT button (like people Like, Share on Facebook, that I explained a few paragraphs above) and attribute meaning behind it.

@Failgunner explained that meaning very clearly – ‘stealing RTs’. Meaning, if I had merely used native RTs, not only would I get updates from Twitter on ‘who retweeted my retweet’, but the count of retweets will accumulate on the original tweet alone. That’s the reason why even Twitter launched native RTs, after seeing the popularity of retweet as a function when someone invented manual RT – that is easier management of attribution.

What fascinated me (enough to write this long a blog post, which, no doubt, would be called a ‘mega dick move’ by @Failgunner) here was that we have moved on from blaming people when they failed to attribute source (outright plagiarism) in a tweet and pass on somebody else’s tweet as their own… to blaming people that they have started stealing retweets, while actually adding a note of credit to the source.

This possibly means, in literal terms, ‘Bloody hell! I was there on-ground, taking snaps and tweeting. You, in your privacy and pyjamas merely saw that pic and shared it as your own while just adding my name as credit. How dare you? The mere reason why you did not opt for the easiest mode available – click that darned retweet button (how difficult is that?) – proves that you are more bothered about how you project yourself than about the effort that I had taken in sharing what I did, originally‘.

Start digression – I suppose we have seen the political equivalent of this in India frequently – a smaller party fights the elections just to ‘steal’ votes away from the bigger parties and when they win some seats, they negotiate to join the bigger party that pays them more and enable it to form the Government! – End digression.

I’d just like to point out that I do make a distinction between ‘By’ and ‘Via’ – the former, for saying that the content was originally by the person who posted it first, and the latter for noting that the content was up for grabs for anybody, but the tweeter posted it first using his power of observation, wit, perspective etc.

But I’ll continue to paraphrase, because… well, I am very keen on adding my perspective, as I have already explained twice in this post. I quite like the utility value of ‘paraphrasing’. Why? Because it allows me to add my point of view, in a way that I think is appropriate, over and above how someone else has done already. And I’d love to see others do the same thing too – I want everyone to start thinking on their own, be able to articulate their thoughts in their heads and express themselves to others, at least one tweet at a time, even if it means they steal RTs by adding a +1 or Hehehe or an actual point of view… instead of opting for the path of least resistance and the easiest mode available (native RTs).

My only concern now… that wish of mine coming true would end up with a world full of dicks!



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  • taparam

    I do see why these two might be annoyed. A few things struck
    1) You may have thought you were adding value/your
    take but I didn?t see it coming through. I thought the original tweets were
    self-sufficient and did not need any additional context/commentary.
    2) You must have spent extra effort to do the manual RT as opposed to clicking the RT button. In your mind, was that effort in proportion to the value you believed you were adding? It didn?t seem so to me. To these two, this effort/value inequality
    might have meant that you were aiming for something else ? RTs for yourself.
    3) Both these tweets have images with nothing in the image to tie it back to the original tweets.
    4) The other factor that might be playing here is that you?re relatively higher
    in the Twitter totem pole and the other two are individuals still building their Twitter reputation. I don?t think that @buzzfeed, to take an extreme example, would have batted an eyelid if you had done this with their content.

    • 1. This ‘value adding’ business is highly subjective 🙂 I do +1 and Hahahaha too, which you could even more easily argue that it is even more pointless!

      2. On effort of manually saving the pic, uploading it myself and then adding my pov vs. hitting manual RT and adding my stuff in front of the original text + pic combo – in a way, both will steam RTs. Does it really matter between the two then? 🙂

      In the Rahman tweet, I was aiming for a different framing. I felt the original was too simplistic. The other tweet – I thought there was too less context to point to the fun part – he may be doing it from his followers’ perspective (he knows that best) and I may be doing it from my followers’ perspective.

      3. That’s precisely why I added their handle for credit – that’s an absolute must, in my head. I just did not agree with how they chose to present the pics.

      4. Just to showcase the fact that they got more native RTs than I, I had added exhibits 1.1 and 2.1 🙂

      • taparam

        1. When you’re doing +1 its clear who is doing what. When you’re issuing a completely different tweet (even with a via), the history is obscured.
        2. I am inclined to think native Twitter RT is powerful and helps build reputation. If you get native RTd and therefore land up enough number of times on others’ timelines, you’re more likely to get followers than if you get vias.
        3. Not a big deal.
        4. Based on the nos. of your respective followers, my guess is that some of your followers, went to the TLs of the originators and RTd the original tweet. I know I do it at times. If this is the case, it might mean the originators have nothing to worry about if their tweet gets manual RTd as long as they get credited – which is what you’re saying. This might also be a seen as a signal your followers are sending you that they prefer seeing the original tweet. 🙂

        • 1. My only question – isn’t credit (that is, who thought of this first?) enough for history (as a source)?

          2. I personally feel stifled doing native RTs. It is not me and I rarely use my property to let others talk through it. The tweet really has to earn it (at least in my little world/head).

          3. This is my biggest deal – credit is everything 🙂

          4. Not necessary that my followers may see that signal 🙂 It could well be that I clarified a context better and they were astute enough to go to the source tweet and RT it (after increased awareness). I do it all the time, actually.

          • taparam

            I think point #2 above clarifies your position on this topic. Thanks.

  • The fact that due credit is been given to the original tweet is more than enough. No harm in paraphrasing. Anyways original content will always remain original. So no point asking for endorsement. Great post Karthik. Will RT it soon 😉

    • I assumed on those lines too, but it clearly looks like there are multiple layers of nuance in attribution, at least on Twitter 🙂

  • haroonbijli

    Let’s see. You aren’t posting a link to a post/article etc originally shared by someone else with your own commentary. You aren’t posting a link to a tweet with your own commentary. You aren’t retaining the original tweet with the embellishment your own wit. You aren’t even posting a link to the same picture with your own original comments.

    You are posting the SAME IDEA but wording it differently and giving a “via”.

    I can see why these two would be upset.

    • Neeraj Rao

      This comment pretty much sums up the issue.

      Karthik conflates “dick move” with “copyright infringement” in his “update”. If we were arguing about legality, we’d call it illegal, not a “dick move”.

      • I am using legal basis because the ethics basis seems to be just all over the place, with no right or wrong conclusion. If you had a ethics guideline for Twitter (twethics?), please do share. We shall all abide by it. If you’re gonna use, ‘this is all implied – you should have known all this’, then that’s a classic dick move, because you haven’t shared it yet and are using something that doesn’t exist and is not understood as the guideline by most… to claim dick move.

        If there was value in RT, the owner should have explained it in his bio. After all, people do add, ‘RTs are not endorsements’, for whatever purpose, right? If there’s no scope of use of RTs, or what the content owner gains or loses from an RT, why should anyone even assume that it exists?

        As for ‘via’ – for many it means there IS a source. If you are selectively assuming the ‘via’ applies only to pictures and not to the text, who is to blame? Why should a via not mean just that – there IS a source? I go and check source wherever there is a via – to see what has been re-used. Can’t blame anyone if they didn’t. That’s their own intent/laziness.

    • Posting the same idea, wording it differently and WITH A CREDIT is called paraphrasing. And paraphrasing is very different from plagiarism.

  • Ajith

    Since RTs come free, except for some ego spent, why not do both? First do the native RT and then in a second tweet add your take. Adds perceived fairness?

    • I do that too, when the original tweet is so long that I cannot add anything in it (lack of character counts). But when it is small, in the interest of followers, it makes sense to put that up in one single tweet so as to not break the flow.

      Also, in the 2nd case mentioned above, the image was not natively uploaded on Twitter – that’s an example of breaking the flow. That is of course the original tweeter’s prerogative, but if I were to care for my audience (whatever it is, don’t assume it to be a big word; just using it to treat a small group of people with respect), I’d want them to get the gist in tweet, with the image added natively so they don’t have to click and see it.

      • Ajith

        Fair…thin line in the end. Almost like what constitutes honesty etc, no clear definition except individual moral compasses