Why it’s not cool to copy tweets

If you have been following me on Twitter for a while, you’d know I have a habit of spotting copied tweets and then promptly tweeting the link to them along with the original tweet. Finding the original tweet can be tricky sometimes, but I do it anyway because people should know what the tweet was copied from.

Every time I do it, I have someone chastising me for it; as if I’m the one doing something wrong. And that is the whole problem; people don’t think copying tweets is a big deal. And this isn’t just the people who copy tweets but even others, who normally wouldn’t do so but somehow still find it odd when someone else points out that a tweet was copied. And that’s because despite all the time they spend on Twitter, they don’t think tweets are important.

But here’s the thing, tweets are important. People have made their careers from tweeting. Some ended up writing books based off their tweets. That one guy had a TV show based on his dad tweets. There are comedians who got popular because of their Twitter accounts. Take Rob Delaney, for example. Sure, he’s popular out in the real world but he’s an enormous celebrity on Twitter. I’m sure his career as a standup comedian must have received quite a boost because people read his tweets on Twitter. And there are a whole bunch of other people who became popular due to their Twitter accounts alone. 

The thing is, people think it’s easy to tweet. That words just appear out of nowhere and form on their screens. Maybe because it’s mixed with so much other mediocre content out there on Twitter but a good tweet is not a coincidence. To form a witty or humorous tweet that appeals to a lot of people and gets, like, a million retweets is not easy. This is especially true for jokes, where you have to fit the entire structure, from the setup to the punchline in 140 characters without sacrificing grammar. It’s hard work. It’s easy to look at the final product and not appreciate what went behind the making of it. It’s worse to trivialize it, as if it’s something anyone can do. It’s not; if anyone could do it, people wouldn’t need to steal tweets and I wouldn’t be writing this. Fact remains that writing a good tweet takes effort. If you scoff at that then you clearly don’t understand what it takes to make a good tweet because you are completely incapable of it yourself.

The problem is, a lot of the people stealing tweets don’t think they are doing anything wrong. You can tell these people aren’t very good at Internet. These are the same sort of people who think that things on Internet aren’t real, who tell you people on Twitter aren’t real and that you should stop taking it seriously. They also think they can apply offline rules online. In the real world (and I mean real in the sense it physically exists), it’s probably okay if you read a joke somewhere in a magazine or newspaper and tell it to your friends. It’s quite likely they won’t assume you came up with it because no one really delivers jokes with full body and punchline in the real world. But if you do that on Twitter people wouldn’t really notice. They’d think you came up with it by yourself (unless they know you are a complete humorless tool incapable of making even someone on nitrous oxide laugh).

But you can’t and shouldn’t do that. Twitter doesn’t have any copyright laws as such but that doesn’t mean a tweet isn’t someone’s intellectual property. I know that’s glorifying a lot of stuff out there that’s about as clever as a wet fart but it still belongs to that person and much like the said fart, they came up with it on their own.  It’s like a painting, or a poem, or a song. Just because it’s 140 characters doesn’t make it any less important nor any less egregious if stolen. I know it doesn’t stop people from stealing any of those other things but at least in those cases they know they are doing something wrong. With tweets, most people don’t even realize what they are doing.

A tweet is not just a tweet. A lot can happen over one tweet. A lot can be contained within those 140 characters. It has the power to make someone sad, or happy, or excited, or terrified. It happens every day, every minute, every second. Without that Twitter wouldn’t be such a popular medium that it is today. But behind those tweets, those 140 characters, is a person writing them out and without their skill or knowledge that tweet wouldn’t have had that impact that it did. To blatantly steal it is to rob that person of the credit they deserve for their work. The world deserves to know it was theirs. All the retweets and favorites, seemingly meaningless numbers until they are for one of your own tweet, belong to them, not you. That person formed those words in their head and gave that tweet its appeal. You only wore out the Ctrl, C, and V keys on your keyboard. You deserve precisely zero percent of the fame and recognition that that tweet might get you. You are worse than the people who make counterfeit stuff. At least those people put in some effort to ensure the fake resembles the original.

So now why would you want to be that person? I know it’s hard to come up with a good tweet by yourself, but at least you don’t be that asshole who steals tweets. And if you are going to anyway, don’t be that jackass who thinks that it’s no big deal and that “it’s just a tweet”. If it was just a tweet and didn’t matter to you, you wouldn’t be stealing it. So stop stealing tweets or at least stop pretending that they don’t matter. Because they do to the people who came up with them.