When Twitter Threads Fly Away

By Erynn Brook

Hey folks, Twitter users, Facebook users, Tumblr users, Internet users, we’ve got a problem.

I wrote a thread yesterday on why I don’t like Twitter thread compilers, and it’s been a bit more popular than I anticipated. I’ll restate some key points of the thread here in this blog, but it’s actually all part of a larger issue that I think we need to talk about.

It’s quite natural how it all happened really, it was bound to. It makes absolute sense when you think about how humans work that we would one day mix the sharing of cat videos and the news articles about politician’s tweets into “24 Hilarious Tweets to Make You Feel Better About Your Shitty Job LOL” articles. It all makes sense that we’ve ended up here.

And it seems innocent enough. You really like Tumblr, so you screenshot a funny tweet and post it on Tumblr. It gets 20,000 reblogs and you and your friends and followers are having a grand ol’ time.

But the original writer doesn’t know. They’re not in on the joke. Sure, maybe they’re getting some action back on Twitter. But they don’t know about this screenshot. They don’t know what’s happening to it or where it’s going.

Let’s Start Simple

Take this harmless, adorable image for example. Hilarious right?

Popular meme called "How I tell a story", shows a winding, long-winded approach

You’ve probably seen it, it’s everywhere.

Screenshot of Reverse Google Image Search of "How I tell a story" image
Screenshot of Reverse Google Image Search of “How I tell a story” image

Except, the original creator of this artwork actually made it to look like this:

Original image "How I tell a story" meme is based on, made by Dani Donovan of adhddd.com. Shows that what became "How I tell a story" was originally "ADHD storytelling"
Original image that became “How I tell a story” from Dani Donovan of adhddd.com

It went viral. 8.2k retweets! Rather unexpected, since Dani Donovan had a smaller following at the time. She didn’t know until after it had flown away that she should copyright it. She was just making something fun for her friends and the ADHD community. The updated version looks like this:

Watermarked version of Dani Donovan's ADHD Storytelling image
Credit: Dani Donovan of www.adhddd.com/

4.7k retweets on the second one. Not bad.

Bless Dani, she’s started a Patreon where people can support her art. But imagine what she’d have if her name was attached to every instance of the image, doctored or not? Imagine, say, the following she would have now? Imagine the numbers she could present to publishers, potential business partners, hell, even her own boss at work to say “Look, I’m good and people like my work and you should give me a raise.”

Now Let’s Make It More Complicated

How is that different from say, a twitter thread? For example, just off the top of my head, a twitter thread of a nice story about my mum.

How many times in your life have you felt uncomfortable, but you’ve felt compelled to stay somewhere to appease social expectations? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably ‘many times.’ Often, we try to be polite and endure awkward or even dangerous situations, but one woman is here to remind us that we don’t have to stick around.

“We’re taught from birth to put other people’s comfort before our own.”

So, just in case no one ever told you (or you need a reminder): YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LEAVE. You can leave a date, a party, a job, a meeting, a commitment. You are allowed. If you’re worried about keeping your word remember that your boundaries are also your word, your integrity.

All of these sites run ads. All of these sites get metrics and view numbers and clicks and engagement and money from my work. There are dozens more. None of them have paid me one red cent for the thread that they happily copy-paste into their feeds. I have no idea how far my words go, or who has seen them. But hey, it’s on a site called “Inspire More” so I should feel good about that!

A few of these sites reached out to me for an interview before writing up an article about my thread. Okay, that’s cool I guess. But it says right in my twitter bio that I’m a writer, so why am I writing content, and then someone else is getting paid to write about me and my content, and my content is generating money for someone else?

Take It To The Next Level

And that brings me to my thread from last night and the thing I don’t like at this particular moment: thread compilers. (I’ll link to the first tweet here and the text that follows will be from the thread itself, edited for better blog reading).

Why I don’t like thread compilers: a thread. Please do not compile. I’ve blocked threadreaderapp and it won’t store my threads.

I write. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get paid to write. Before this wave of thread compiler bots showed up, I used to get paid, sometimes, to turn my threads into articles. That hasn’t happened since these bots came around.

What these compilers do is pull my words, and my face and put them onto a webpage that I have no control over. @Threadreaderapp puts ads on my content, then offers paid premium services to remove ads from my content, or allow you to save to PDF or get a notification or newsletter when I tweet content, and send you a link to their website, displaying my content, which has been pulled from my feed, without my permission.

These compiled threads often get turned into articles by other websites. Also using ads. Also sometimes using paid writers. So a website pays someone else to copy/paste my words onto their site and make money off my work. Again without my knowledge or permission.

And in the most disturbing incident of this happening, sometimes these other sites making articles out of my words and making money off them get really plucky. Like the time they found my mum’s Facebook profile and put up several links to her and family photos of us. Or when they google me and use photos from my Facebook profile or from my old acting days.

The ideas behind these bots are cool.

Compile threads and make them more shareable, neat! But I can’t support any product that aggregates content for profit and isn’t built from the principle of compensating and protecting content creators from the get-go1For more on this topic I highly recommend Flavia Dzodan‘s work. .

There’s an article somewhere that someone wrote about a twitter thread of mine and I was described as “Erynn Brook is know for going viral.”

If Erynn Brook is known for her words then Erynn Brook would like to be getting paid for her words, especially if other people are writing about Erynn Brook writing words and THEY’RE getting paid for writing about Erynn Brook’s words.

So What Can We Do?

Twitter is not a blog. It’s not meant to be a blog. This is a blog. Compare the thread that I wrote with what I transcribed to this blog post. Is there more information in the thread? Mm, maybe. There’s different information. But is the important information available here, edited for clarity, removing the random wandering thoughts and audience participation? Yes. Is this format better suited to a blog post? Yes. Is the twitter thread better suited to twitter? Absolutely.

A lot of people commented that they had no idea this was how the compiler worked. I don’t mean to be rude, but this is very basic media literacy stuff. The bot sends you a link that is not the link to the original content. When you click on that link you see ads or you don’t. When you say thank you to the bot it sends you a reply saying that you can donate to it. It’s all right there. And even if you know nothing about media literacy, this is very basic human-to-human respect stuff. If you’re going to use technology on someone else, which is what you’re doing when you call a bot into someone’s thread and ask it to unroll it for you, then you should at least know how it works and what effect it may have on the other person.

No, I don’t like screenshots of my threads being reposted on Facebook or Tumblr. I don’t like my tweets appearing in ad-filled listicles that someone got paid to write. I certainly don’t like whoever took Dani’s image and edited it. There will always be predatory crap out there, but does that mean you should get to harm people out of ignorance just because others harm people out of malice?

Think about it.

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