The developer who built Twitter’s retweet button has denounced his creation, stating that he came to the realisation that his invention placed a weapon in the hands of people unable to understand the potential damage it could cause.
Although the social media app first launched in 2006, it took three years for the button to be integrated as a feature. Prior to this, users had to manually retweet by copying the text, pasting it into a new window and then add ‘RT’ (with the original users’ handle) before hitting send. It’s exhausting just to think about.
According to retweet developer Chris Wetherall, in an interview with BuzzFeed News, he believes the button changed the way people engage with tweets, and how we interact online as a whole. Pre-RT people had to read and actually think about what it was they wanted to share with their followers before undertaking the arduous task of retweeting. Now users can blindly tap a button and spread someone else’s hate across the TL.
The mindlessness of the process is not something Wetherall or his team anticipated. Not only that, but they quickly realised the platform could be used for harm, particularly after what is now known as ‘Gamergate’, today regarded as the first harassment campaign to occur on Twitter. “It was very easy for (users) to brigade harm on someone they didn’t like,” Wetherall said, before going on to explain how easily a reputation could be irrevocably tarnished by the rapid rate of false information. The real evil of the retweet is that a false picture of someone can be spread widely before the accussed even has time to fight back.
Now tasked with how to solve the problem, Wetherall sees a few potential solutions. One way of fixing its toxic feature is to make the option to retweet unavailable for users or groups who are known to spread hate and lies. Speaking to BuzzFeed, David Rand, an associate professor studying misinformation at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, suggested people who haven’t read an attached link, shouldn’t be able to hit retweet. Although the Twitterverse remains a difficult space to navigate, it is perhaps starting to take responsibility.