Home News Science&Tech Twitter employee regrets coming up with a retweet button

Twitter employee regrets coming up with a retweet button

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The Twitter employee who came up with the retweet button in 2009 is sorry about his invention. “Like giving a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.”

Developer Chris Wetherell tells his story to BuzzFeed News. Wetherell has since left Twitter, and initially developed the button to make sharing information easier and faster. Until then, users shared tweets from others by completely copying them and typing ‘RT’ for them.

“It did a lot of what it should do,” says Wetherell about the retweet button. But the positivity changed when it turned out that people seemed to press the retweet button without thinking. There was no threshold anymore, no thought moment, so that incorrect information can spread very quickly via Twitter.

The retweet button now has a second function: the quote retweet. Then users post their own comments above an existing tweet. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said earlier that users might think better about which tweets they help distribute. Dorsey also sees the consequences of such functions.

Former Twitter chief Jason Goldman sees it differently, and sees the biggest problem Twitter has in the quote retweet. “Quote-retweet makes it work. It’s the cleaning mechanism,” Goldman said.

Wetherell says he did not really notice in 2014 how the retweet function could be used negatively. Gamers then massively shared sexist and grievous comments against people in the gaming industry.

“It was very easy for them to inflict reputation damage on someone they didn’t like,” says Wetherell. “It was dawning that this was not a small group of people who committed themselves. This could be how people behave. I was shocked by that.”

The developer thinks it is not a good idea to retract the retweet button. However, there is a temporary retweet ban for people who always retweet a certain type of tweets, intended to offend.

Professor David Rand of MIT University, a fake news researcher has another solution: make retweets only possible when people have read the linked article. Wetherell certainly looks back on his idea with regret.

“At first I thought: we have given the people power. Now I think: oh no, we have given the people power.”

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