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How Retweets Broke Social Media

Chris Wetherell built Twitter’s retweet button, something he has come to regret.

In 2014, Wetherell realized the retweet button was going to be a major problem when the phrase ​“ethics in game journalism” started pouring into a saved search for ​“journalism” he had on Twitter. The phrase was a rallying cry for Gamergate — a harassment campaign against women in the game industry — and Wetherell, after seeing that first batch of tweets, watched it closely.

As Gamergate unfolded, Wetherell noticed its participants were using the retweet to ​“brigade,” or coordinate their attacks against their targets, disseminating misinformation and outrage at a pace that made it difficult to fight back. The retweet button propelled Gamergate, according to an analysis by the technologist and blogger Andy Baio. In his study of 316,669 Gamergate tweets sent over 72 hours, 217,384 were retweets, or about 69%.

This article is a fascinating look at a seemingly innocuous, and yet extremely influential, moment in the internet’s history.


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