Everything on Twitter is fair game, so prepare for your moment of viral notoriety

Image: christopher mineses/mashable

This past weekend on a beautiful Saturday morning, I sat on my couch for the better part of an hour I had planned to spend outside enjoying the sunshine glued to my phone, sniggering by myself.

I had fallen into a particularly entertaining Twitter thread, and I had no intentions of crawling out. I was enjoying myself too damn much and from the seemingly endless number of replies that were piling up, I wasn’t the only one.

It all started with a simple request from political and comedy writer Maura Quint: Tell me about the worst date you’ve ever had in 140 characters or less.

Among all the hilarious, sad, and sometimes terrifying snafus that were recounted in the thousands of replies, another theme emerged: a pushback from the thread’s creator and multiple participants against the tweets being shared outside of the conversation itself.

The anti-aggregation tweets were more tongue-in-cheek predictions than strict usage requests, but they struck me as being particularly self-aware, even on a social media platform where irony and self-deprecation run the highest. It might be annoying that your clever story is sourced in a way you don’t like, but you sign away the rights for your intellectual property the minute you tap that send button.

We’ve all read our fair share of those listicles filled with crowdsourced horror stories, many of which are pulled directly from Twitter, Reddit, or Tumblr. The posts aren’t original, but they never really try to be and that doesn’t hurt anyone, right?

I got in touch with Quint to get her perspective on the thread and to ask why she and her peers were so protective of their tweets.

“The internet is a vital part of our culture at this point, but we’re still navigating how we collectively treat online content, including how we societally define ownership, theft, and exploitation,” Quint told Mashable in an email.

“I’m a comedy writer and many of the first people responding to me were fellow comedians and writers. Existing in that space online, we’re all acutely aware of having our work stolen, removed of attribution, and claimed by someone else.”

Twitter becomes a double-edged sword for communities of writers like Quint. It provides a platform that can lead to notoriety and more work but as she points out, tweets can just as easily be embedded in #content without much context.

Quint’s concerns are very real but tweets sent out into the public are fair for anyone to use, so everyone participating in the conversation shared their stories at the risk of a digital media pickup. There is a major distinction between a reporter stealing a story by writing it out themselves and embedding a tweet, which leads directly back to the original source of the material.

Quint admitted as much.

“As long as credit is still given to the individuals who post it, I don’t personally feel there’s anything wrong with sharing Twitter content elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean I can’t curmudgeonly grumble that someone like you [a reporter] is getting paid for something I did as a fun distraction when I should have been writing my own piece that I could have been getting paid for.”

I enjoyed the hell out of Quint’s thread, and by using it for my own column I admit that to a degree I’m using it for my own benefit. I will never feature anyone else’s ideas without giving them their due credit, but if they’ve posted their thoughts online, I will take advantage accordingly. Sorry, I’m not sorry.

That’s the beauty of social media (especially Twitter) and the 21st century news cycle. Shit normal people post under unassuming circumstances might wind up featured on a new media site right next to more traditional stories. We all have the potential to be newsmakers now, whether you want to accept your 15 seconds of viral feature or not so tweet accordingly.

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