I apologize in advance if you don’t give two hoots about social media conventions and norms.

Saw this post by Taylor Lorenz over on Mastodon.social:

Journalists will never stick around this app long term sadly unless it adds quote posting. We desperately need it to communicate effectively, build on each others ideas, and add crucial context to posts. These are things replies simply do not accomplish. Also quote posting or reblogging does not = harassment! Tumblr, for instance, has had the feature since the beginning. We need it here now too

It seems to be common knowledge that quote tweeting on Twitter encouraged harassment. As I’ve understood it:

  • Someone makes an post, and is wrong on the internet (TM)
  • Someone Else QT’s that post, and dunks on it.
  • In an extreme case, the follower’s of Someone Else pile-on and harass the original Someone.

What I do not get is the argument for why Quote Tweeting is a force for good. Taylor’s post, and the others I have seen like it, argue that quote tweeting is what would make the platform better. However, it’s hard not to read their words and think “ok, but you just want Mastodon to be like Twitter.” .

The equivalent of finding flaws in a new partner following the end of a long term relationship. Nothing is the same, and therefore nothing is good enough.

Perhaps trying to understand the usefulness of quote tweeting from first principles - always dangerous! - could help? What is my motivation for quote tweeting…?

  • I have thoughts or context that I want to share about this post.
  • I want my followers to see these thoughts.
  • I also want my followers to understand the original post, so that what I am sharing (a) makes sense, and (b) doesn’t have to repeat the original post I’m commenting on.

Therefore, a structure which contains…

  • My thoughts/context
  • The original post
  • Side by side, in a single view

…is best.

What about alternatives?

  • If I post a Reply and then Boost that reply, my followers have to click through to a detailed view of my post to see the original post to which I was Replying. UX friction.
  • If I screenshot the original post, and post my thoughts along with that screenshot, the link to the original post is lost. I could post a link in addition to the screenshot, but again…UX friction.

On the other hand, why is my reply primarily something I’m providing my followers? Mastodon, and the Fediverse in general, is about community and discussion. Shouldn’t the goal be to have me reply to the original post so that perhaps a discussion occurs? When I quote tweet, if the original poster replies to me, they have a choice between a Reply and a Quote Tweet. If they reply to my quote tweet, they’re coming onto my turf (because it’s a reply to my post, no longer a back and forth on theirs). They could choose to quote tweet my quote tweet right back…but, I’ve seen that happen on Twitter and it was never done in a positive way.

Will update this post if I come across any enlightening thoughts.

Update 26 December 2022. I think this is the best take, from Patrick Howell O’Neill on Mastodon:

I don’t feel too strongly one way or the other about quote tweeting but it’s funny to me that some people are extremely preoccupied with it and cannot imagine that things might be okay without it. You’ve been here for like two weeks and already know, without a doubt, that the lack of QT will doom this place forever? I admire the immediate conviction I guess!

Like if anything I’m a little pro QT, I just can’t quite fathom how strongly some people feel about it.

Also, it’s helpful to include reference to Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko’s arguments against Quote Tweets.

Another feature that has been requested almost since the start, and which I keep rejecting is quoting messages. Coming back to my disclaimer, of course it’s impossible to prevent people from sharing screenshots or linking to public resources, but quoting messages is immediately actionable. It makes it a lot easier for people to immediately engage with the quoted content… and it usually doesn’t lead to anything good. When people use quotes to reply to other people, conversations become performative power plays. “Heed, my followers, how I dunk on this fool!” When you use the reply function, your message is broadcast only to people who happen to follow you both. It means one person’s follower count doesn’t play a massive role in the conversation. A quote, on the other hand, very often invites the followers to join in on the conversation, and whoever has got more of them ends up having the upper hand and massively stressing out the other person.

Unfortunately1, all of the evidence for this viewpoint appears anecdotal. I personally have anecdotes where I’ve seen Quote Tweets used in precisely this way!

The idea that Reply’s are superior to QT’s is mentioned: “When you use the reply function, your message is broadcast only to people who happen to follow you both,” and that really resonates with me. Quote Tweets are powerful tools for people who want reach, and can be easily abused by those with massive follower counts. It’s easy to see why such a feature should be carefully considered and a straight up reimplementation of the Twitter Quote Tweet is not the best idea.

  1. And I mean this sincerely! I would love nothing more than to see empirical evidence taken from what we already can observe on Twitter, etc. Anecdotal evidence is really just individuals recounting their personal experiences, a la “Quote Tweets were used to harm me or mine, and therefore I don’t want them.” It’s really difficult to convince others with that line of reasoning. ↩︎