What is it about?

When you retweet someone else's tweet, what are you communicating? A common idea is that retweet is a sort of 'endorsement' of the original tweet. This article argues that endorsement can't be the literal meaning of a retweet, for two reasons: (1) there's nothing paradoxical in saying that you disagree with what you retweeted, (2) often retweets are not the kind of thing that can be endorsed – think of retweets of images, pictures, questions, or complex texts that express divergent opinions. It is argued that retweets are best understood as a form of "quotation by indication". analogous to what you do when you quote what someone has written by indicating (pointing at) what they wrote ("Look at this!"). This is what a retweet does: it directs your followers- attention towards the target post. This means that while retweets are not endorsements, they can be used to express agreement (and they often are used for this purpose). How? The article becomes quite technical at this point. But the idea is that retweets at most IMPLY that the author of the retweet agrees with the content they share (see the article for more details)

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Why is it important?

Understanding what retweets communicate and how they work can help us understand their role in spreading DISINFORMATION. Retweeting is an especially sneaky form of communication. Retweeting allows Twitter users (including politicians and public figures) to spread falsehoods and convey controversial claims, while maintaining plausible deniability (once it is proven that they were spreading falsehoods, they can always reply: "it was just a RT, I did not mean to imply that I agree with it!"). There is another reason why retweets play a central role in the spread of misinformation. Retweets are CHEAP: two clicks and you are done, and almost no reputation is at stake. This incentivises people to retweet frequently and carelessly: 25% of Twitter content is constituted by retweets. This article argues that the 'low cost' of retweets is one of the overlooked causes of the ongoing fake news pandemic.

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This page is a summary of: Retweeting: its linguistic and epistemic value, Synthese, June 2020, Springer Science + Business Media, DOI: 10.1007/s11229-020-02731-y.
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