Twitter Reply Vs Quote Tweet

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More than once now I've seen someone on social media using an option which has, for their purposes, been sub-optimal. In one case it led to a very unpleasant exchange, purely because one person assumed an implication that simply wasn't intended.

So here I'm going to outline one specific example, not least so that when it arises again, as well it might, I have something at which I can point people.

For my example I'm using Twitter, but the same ideas carry over to other forums and social media platforms.

Options for Actions
The tweet in question
So here we have a tweet. It was the quip that was automatically tweeted by my system on the morning of June 17th. Let's suppose you like it, and you want to indicate as much, but you don't have anything to add, or anything to say.

In that case you can click on the little "Heart" symbol that's at the bottom, it will go red, and that's called a "Like".

Very imaginative. Also very common, most social media platforms and discussion forums have the ability to react rather than respond, and the "Like" is one of the most common of these.
But let's suppose you want to tell me something. In that case you will want to "Reply", and you do that by clicking on the symbol I have here circled in red. It's a little speech icon, and clicking it indicates that you want to say something.

In particular, a "Reply" is just that, it's replying to someone, and so creates a conversation. In social-media-speak, you create (or join) a "thread", although in truth it's not a thread, it's actually more of a "tree", because it can branch.

You can see an example of a branching discussion here.

But in particular, if you want to reply to someone and give them information, then you want to click the "Reply" icon.
On the other hand, you might think a particular tweet is a good one, so you might like to share it with your followers. In that case you want to "Re-Tweet" it.

So there's a little icon with arrows, and somehow that's supposed to bring to mind the idea that you are "Re-publishing" the comment for your followers to see. You are, in this case, not adding to the conversation in any way, so are simply making the original comment (or tweet) more widely known, showing it with people who probably share your interests and/or tastes, and who might thereby appreciate it as you do.

But wait! Clicking on that icon brings up a choice ...
You are being given the option of a simple "Re-Tweet", or a "Re-Tweet with comment"

What's that? Short answer: Badly named.

The Quote-Tweet

The Quote-Tweet is not, despite the user interface, a Re-Tweet. The Quote-Tweet is an initial tweet, made by you, that as a part of it quotes the original tweet. So you are not replying to them, and you are not simply passing it on to your followers. In this case you are initiating a new comment, creating a new thread, and as part of that, you are choosing to reference the other tweet.

So you are not joining a discussion, and your comment might not be seen by those involved in the original thread. A "Quote-Tweet" as it is sometimes called has a different purpose altogether.

So here are the semantics:

  • A "Reply" is a reply, and you join the conversation;
  • A "Re-Tweet" makes the original comment visible to your followers;
  • A "Quote-Tweet" is you starting an entirely new thread:
    • Mentioning the original;
    • Not necessarily seen by participants in the original thread;
    • Not becoming involved in the quoted discussion.

There was a situation not so long ago where there was a thread, and someone "Quote-Tweeted" one of the elements of the thread. In response, one of the original participants said:

"Please consider replying rather than quote tweeting. If I want to engage with your response, and then you just do another quote tweet, it's impossible to have a conversation. Unless you are just broadcasting to your followers and not actually engaging."

Additional baggage

These immediate implications can then lead to secondary implications. In particular, a usage has emerged for people to see a tweet, and rather than engaging in the conversation, they quote-tweet it and then follow-up with their followers. It starts a new and different conversation, and is often done to mock the original.

So when someone quote-tweets, rather than replying, especially on potentially sensitive or controversial subjects, people start to wonder why. The way it has been abused in the past has led to calls for it to be dropped. Mastodon doesn't allow it, and people certainly have done unpleasant things with it. So if you use a quote-tweet when semantically you are replying, people are suspicious.

And even in non-controversial situations, if you want to contribute to a discussion then you should Reply and join in. Suppose someone tweets a really interesting puzzle, and someone else then quote-tweets it to start a conversation ... fundamentally there is no easy way, starting with the original, of finding that new conversation. It's separate and distinct, and that's disappointing.

If, however, you reply, then you're in the thread.

Summarising the Semantics

Weighing problems:
A huge, sprawling discussion with Replies and Quote-Tweets, properly used.
But it boils down to the semantics. Were you replying? Actually, yes you were, so you should actually reply and not quote-tweet. You should only Quote-Tweet when you want to initiate a thread, and are pointing at another tweet as a reference for what you want to say.

There's a difference.

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