Are Retweets and Online Trust Related?

Twitter is quite a rage now. On twitter, there are a lot of people who want to be on the top of influence charts and lists everywhere. This has led to many tools that measure and report a person’s influence on twitter. There is a vanity value attached to one’s influence on twitter. There are a methods used to measure this, one of the key and very common factors that almost all tools use is the Retweet count. This is the number of times a user’s tweet is retweeted by people on twitter. But is this a metric to measure trust?


So many of the current crop of Twitter influence/trust measuring services place a great deal of weight on the “retweet” – perhaps more than is healthy. I say this without any prejudice and here is my reason for saying it. I know for a fact that there are circles on twitter where a person’s tweet is RT-ed even without clicking on the link in it or even reading what the tweet says. This fact will definitely confound the argument that a retweet is a measure of trust and hence influence. In this case, the RT is becoming less trustworthy, the retweeter may not even have read it. Often such favors are done in an implied or unsaid pact that exists in various circles on twitter. So the RT in no way represents the interest or the relevance of the content of the tweet. It is just an indication of the networking that exists on twitter.

The next complication in the understanding of a retweet is the “who” factor. I have seen mindless and humongous numbers of retweets of just about anything that Justin Beiber has to say, is that a measure that says that his tweet is interesting? I think not, all that it says to me is that there are so many people who are obsessed with whatever he has to say. So the content notwithstanding, whatever comes from a few accounts gets retweeted. We need to follow the logic of Duckworth-Lewis here whereby they most and least productive overs of a batting side are NOT factored in when estimating targets. If you look at the mindless and blind following that a few celebs have, you will agree that their retweet count does not signify trust, just awe or obsession


The last but not the least factor is the “why” angle. We can’t really know why a user retweeted something–it might be because the original tweeter is a friend, or because the retweeter is trying to curry favor with the original tweeter. The retweeter might even be violently disagreeing with the original tweet, which gives you a crude mechanic for influence, yes, but certainly not trust!


So what is the conclusion? We can safely say that whilst a Retweet can be a crude mechanism to signify influence, it is not the right thing to take into account as a measure of trust. There are factors like who is the original tweeter and why it was retweeted by whom, we need to take a cautious and studied look at all these before deciding what a retweet stands for – trust or influence or just a reaction! This is because the human language usage or NLP as it is fancily called is still not perfectly framed as a science!

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