Nathan W. Bingham
Connecting in a Hyper-Connected World

To Retweet or Not to Retweet: The Question of Retweeting Compliments

The question of whether it is acceptable to retweet compliments on Twitter is nothing new and quite an old question in terms of internet years. Back in 2011 I was at a secular blogging conference (in Australia of all places) and this question was discussed. A quick Google search will give you many blog posts dated from 2011 and 2012 telling you this practice is a social media faux pas.

I raise this question again as it was asked at this year’s Band of Bloggers. Justin Taylor came out strong suggesting that retweeting compliments on Twitter is sinful. I’m joining the conversation as I was surprised with the pushback his comment received by some of the panelists and online. Justin does have Scripture on his side after all:

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2)

I’m confident Justin would agree Proverbs 27:2 is a wise principal and that his remark was a little hyperbolic. Of course it’s possible to retweet a compliment and it not be sinful. How often that situation is a reality can be debated.

Do I think it is sinful? Sometimes. Scripture doesn’t directly address Twitter, but I agree with Proverbs 27:2 and elsewhere that would suggest this is unwise. I cannot judge the heart though, and an individual’s motives may be pure. So I won’t go as far to make an absolute statement and I’d always encourage making a judgment of charity.

However, what has been missing in these follow-up discussions is one major point: the collective internet culture has already made a determination on this practice. It is unacceptable. It is worthy of unfollowing someone. It is an example of using social media poorly, not well. If you make a habit of retweeting compliments you’ve lost the ear of the world, and likely the ear of many Christians (at least millennials).

The world would say it’s stupid, and I agree that’s a better definition of the practice.

Social media is meant to be social. It’s about connecting with people, building relationships, sharing, and reaching new people with your message (or with what you ate for breakfast). For the most part, people that follow you are already interested in you, your ministry, or your brand. They want to read your 140 character length thoughts. To put it in more vulgar terms, they’ve drunk your Kool-Aid. They already think the book you’ve written is great, or that you’re really skilled in curating content. When you retweet a compliment you’re not reaching anybody new. You’re preaching to the choir and just adding annoying noise to the mix.

If your humble desire is to increase your following on Twitter your goal should be for other people to recommend you and retweet your content. Don’t tell your followers you’re great because they already think you are.

I’ve heard a couple of arguments in favor of retweeting compliments, (1) it’s a way to say thank you and to share your enthusiasm and (2) sharing accolades is standard industry practice in the field of web design.

Firstly, the Twitter favorite button has become more akin to the “Like” button on Facebook and can serve as a great way to acknowledge you’ve heard someone. Responding with a note of thanks would be more time consuming but would achieve the same goal. There’s no need for a retweet and you’re still sharing the love.

Secondly, if I was nominated for an Oscar or won an Apple Design Award I’d let people know on Twitter. But that’s a bit different to me retweeting someone who just told me they think I’m awesome.

There is more that could be said here, and there are always exceptions to any rule. My goal is not to rebuke certain members of the Christian Twittersphere. In many cases folks are simply unaware of social media etiquette as they’re navigating this new medium. My goal is to bring the Christian conversation forward a couple of years to be in line with current practice.

I propose we stop the bad habit of retweeting compliments, and then perhaps move the conversation forward as we spill some ink (pixels?) on more edifying subjects like dealing with the underlying sin in our hearts that rises up whenever we read (let alone retweet) such compliments.

Remember, just because it may be permissible to retweet a compliment doesn’t make it a good use of the medium.