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Why A “Neutral Retweet” Doesn’t Work

This week, journalists on Twitter have been feverishly discussing the new AP guidelines for retweeting. In a nutshell, the AP outlined how journalists should retweet without endorsing the original tweet – but many thought their method was archaic, out of touch or just plain strange.

Enter Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman. Sonderman put forward a suggestion that journalists use “NT” to mean “neutral retweet” when they want to eliminate bias in their retweeting. But despite his best intentions, this was received as a joke, at best, or inane at worst.

As the Atlantic Wire points out, many top journalists scoffed at the idea of replacing “RT” with “NT” when they wanted to indicate neutrality.

Reuter’s social media editor (@AntDeRosa) tweeted “Sorry but a RT is a NT,” in response to the story, and Jay Rosen (@JayRosen_NYU) tweeted in agreement “I don’t think NT is necessary, either, @adamclarkestes @antderosa @myersnews Some news bosses need baby-sitting. The NT is like a pacifier.”

Other journalists chimed in, most of them agreeing that the idea of an NT was ridiculous.

So why is this the case? Why not add another type of retweet to the Twitter vocabulary?

First, as many pointed out on Twitter, A RT is a NT. Retweeting someone is already neutral. It doesn’t endorse the original tweet in any way, except to say that it is share-worthy.

Retweeting with no opinion attached is the same as forwarding an article via email or passing your coworker the newspaper – it doesn’t necessarily mean you support the statements made in that particular article. Nor does it mean you disagree. Retweeting is simply sharing, no value-judgement attached.

Adding “neutral retweeting” into the mix would only complicate matters. If Twitter users started indicating that something is retweeted with neutrality by using “NT”, they would change the implied meaning of the original “RT”. “NT” would take on “RT”‘s current meaning, and “RT”s would begin to mean an endorsement, simply because they were sloughed off in favor of the “NT”.

A traditional retweet would always be juxtaposed against the (perceived) more neutral “NT”, and would become a non-neutral way of sharing tweets.

Twitter users already have syntax such as “+1″ when they retweet something using “RT” and want to quickly indicate that they agree with it, and by not including a “+1″ or any other verbal indication of agreement, they are effectively neutrally retweeting.

So the idea of introducing a neutral retweet makes little sense in the context of current Twitter syntax. It would be an added complication, meant only to pacify certain journalists and their editors, and confusing those new to Twitter even more (they already have RT, MT, PRT and hashtags to deal with!).

While I don’t think the “NT” will gain any actual steam in term of usage – after the jokes have died down – the fact that neutrality in retweeting is such a big issue points to a larger issue with the big journalistic entities like the AP and their misunderstanding of the norms of Twitter.

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