The Industry

The Problem With Twitter’s Noble Attempt to Make Retweets More Difficult

It’s introduced some needed friction to a platform where misinformation spreads like wildfire. But mostly, it’s confusing.

In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone on August 10, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. - Wall Street was mixed early August 10, 2020, with Nasdaq retreating further as investors digested President Donald Trump's efforts to take unilateral action in the absence of a deal with Congress on emergency pandemic spending. About an hour into the first trading session of the week, the tech-rich Nasdaq was down 0.4 percent to 10,963.75, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.95 percent to 27,686.07 and the broad-based S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent to 3,357.96. Twitter gained 1.9 percent amid reports the social media giant held talks to combine with Chinese video app TikTok which Trump last week banned from the US amid what he said were security concerns. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Slow down there, birdie. OLIVIER DOULIERY/Getty Images

In the runup to the biggest tweeting event in recent history—the presidential election—Twitter has made the act of tweeting perplexingly tricky.

Specifically, the company has messed with the way that users retweet other tweets. As of Tuesday, a new feature that appears to be rolled out to all users changes what happens when you hit the little circular-arrows button that appears at the bottom of every tweet. Instead of asking in a small pop-up menu if you want to retweet the post, or quote-tweet it, a larger window pops up prompting you to add your own commentary before adding the tweet to your timeline:

A screenshot of the author's Twitter account attempting to retweet another tweet.

If you are just coming to this piece to figure out how to simply retweet something on Twitter now, the answer is: Write nothing in that comment spot, and hit the large blue “retweet” button. Yes, for the anxious among us this will feel a tiny bit like jumping off a small cliff—what will people think if your tweet has a GIANT WHITE SPACE—but what will happen next is the tweet will appear on your timeline and in the world as a regular retweet, not a quote tweet.

If you were confused, you are not alone. The design of the new feature has confused even adept Twitter users, slowing the spread not just of misinformation, but regular old information:

Hayes’ follow-up tweet clarifies that he was just confused about the new friction in retweeting a piece, which makes a lot of sense! Though he hadn’t received an explicit prompt to read his own piece before retweeting, Twitter did test a feature earlier this year that gives users the choice to retweet, retweet with comment, or read. That feature, which wouldn’t prevent someone from retweeting a piece they hadn’t looked at, has not yet been widely rolled out, though the company has said it plans to at some point.

The instinct behind this latest attempt to slow down retweets—confronting you with a clear view of the information you are about to hurtle further into the world—is good. As a New York Times article from earlier this month explains, the platform is attempting to slow the spread of misinformation on what is sure to be a chaotic night (or week, or weeks). This has included adding warnings to pieces of misinformation, like the president’s recent inflation of flu deaths in service of downplaying the negative impacts of COVID-19. It also includes a nudge for people to add their own commentary, per Kate Conger’s reporting in the Times:

The Twitter executives said the “extra friction” on retweets will prompt users to add their own thoughts before they hit the button. If users decide they don’t have anything to add, they will be able to retweet after the prompt.

This is a nice idea for very slightly improving a platform where misinformation thrives, and can spread quickly as users mindlessly hit the retweet button. Emphasis on slightly—after all, quote-tweets were a pretty easy option prior to this change. (Per the Times, these policies will be in place “until the result of the presidential election is clear”). If you are inclined to retweet, say, the president, it should be as easy as possible to add your own little warning label of sorts to the tweet.

But Twitter should fix the design of the prompt so it’s clear what the point of this extra friction really is—that is, for users to take a breath and consider adding some commentary rather than simply amplifying the original tweet. I don’t have any specific suggestions, but I’m also not the one who created an app so alluring that it makes people unable to avert their eyes even as it crushes their souls. While the company is at it, Twitter should go one step further in bettering their commendable attempt to add friction to their platform: Anytime you go to tweet anything whatsoever, right next to the big blue “tweet” button should be a prompt that says: “Wouldn’t you rather just log off?”