Twitter has a problem: New users just don’t know how to use it.
To help newbies sign up and start tweeting, the company has made a number of recent changes. Redesigned profiles, a giant World Cup marketing push, and rejiggering the Home timeline are just part of Twitter’s many attempts to make it friendlier for first-time users.
The problem: It’s not just Twitter’s design or interface that makes it an intimidating service for the average Internet user. It’s, well, Twitter users themselves. Habitual Twitter users like me have a habit of tossing out terms and references that are utterly opaque to newcomers:
“Get me out of this Twitter canoe!”
“This picture needs some @darth.”
“OH in SOMA: ‘when I see someone with grey hair in their profile pic, I’m a little nervous to send them an email.'”
To help new users navigate Twitter’s insider vocabulary and obscure etiquette, here’s a handy guide. We’ll help you paddle through a Twitter canoes, deal with RLRTs, and become an all-star Twitter user.
Start With The Basics
The retweet—RT for short—is a user-created Twitter abbreviation that has become one of the social network’s key features. Retweeting is taking someone else’s tweet and tweeting it into your timeline, with the intent of spreading their words to your followers.
There are a few ways to retweet. Five years ago, Twitter started automating it with the retweet button, and that’s the way most people who use Twitter know the feature. On Twitter’s mobile app, you also have the option of simply quoting the tweet, which is a much more familiar plain-English way of saying “these are someone else’s words.
A newer way is to paste a link to the original tweet, which Twitter will then show embedded in smaller form underneath anything you write about it in your own tweet. It’s not exactly retweeting, but it serves a similar purpose.
But before any of those options were available, people manually typed “RT” and the original tweeter’s username in front of a tweet they thought was clever or interesting to share with their followers.
Some people still do this, for a variety of reasons:
• They’re old-school Twitter users who never dropped the habit.
• They’re friends with old-school Twitter users who picked up the “RT” convention from them.
• They genuinely think typing a manual “RT” makes it clearer who the author was.
• They want to add some commentary to a tweet.
Manual retweeting does allow room to add your own words, but there’s some contention over whether or not the manual RT should even be used anymore, as some people see it as taking credit away from the original tweet. Tweet embeds also serve the same purpose as manual retweets for adding commentary, which raises further questions about whether new users should adopt this old convention.
Take a look at this tweet, for example. At a glance, can you tell who wrote it? Is it CNET’s Nick Statt? Bloomberg’s Tim O’Brien? Security researcher Runa Sandvik? Or The Intercept’s Ryan Deveraux?
In fact, Statt did a manual retweet of O’Brien’s tweet, which was a retweet-by-quote of Sandvik’s tweet, which included a screenshot of an article by Deveraux.
Try explaining that to a brand-new Twitter user.
When you star someone’s tweet, it’s considered a fav, or favorite. (Some people prefer the spelling “fave,” but “fav” seems more popular among Twitter users.) There are no rules regarding what people favorite. It could mean the tweet made them laugh. It could be a “thank you” for mentioning a specific topic or idea. Or it could simply mean that they want to save it to read later, almost like a Web bookmark.
Historically, favorited tweets, while publicly available if you visit a Twitter user’s profile page, have never appeared in people’s timelines like retweets. But in an effort to make the service more appealing for new users, Twitter will now display some tweets from strangers that have been favorited by people you follow.
The bottom line: Any tweets you favorite are public, and are more likely to be seen by a wide variety of people now. People may expect you to explain why you hit the star icon on a particularly controversial tweet.
#FF (Follow Friday) And Other Hashtags
In 2009, Micah Baldwin suggested that people start tweeting the usernames of accounts they thought their friends should follow. He dubbed it “Follow Friday.”
People rapidly added a way to find these tweets, by marking them with a hashtag. A hashtag is any word or phrase with a hash mark—”#”—at the beginning. You’ll see people use hashtags with news events like #Ferguson or #Syria, but Twitter insiders also use them for their own particular conventions. For Follow Friday, it started as #followfriday and then got shortened to #FF
If you’re included in a #FF tweet, be flattered that someone thinks you’re so interesting, they want their followers to follow you, too. You might want to reciprocate by doing your own #FF mentioning them.
It’s not normal to do a #FF on any day but Friday. If you see someone doing that, either they’ve lost track of the date, or they’re being sarcastic.
MT (Modified Tweet)
A tweet with an “MT” at the start is a “modified tweet.” That’s like a retweet, but the author wants to let you know it’s not a faithful reproduction of the original tweet. People use it instead of a RT for a few reasons. One is that they want to shorten the original tweet, so they can fit their own commentary inside Twitter’s 140-character limit.
People use MT rather liberally. If you see it in a tweet, it could mean the user modified the words after the tweet in an attempt to be funny or sarcastic, or they just shortened the tweet by removing a word or a link so they could add their own opinion ahead of it.
Tweeting IRL (In Real Life)
RLRT (Real-Life Retweet)
If someone said something so amazing in real life that you have to share it on Twitter, use RLRT, which stands for real life retweet. When paired with your friend’s Twitter handle, it tells your followers that the person mentioned in the tweet actually said it, and you were there to hear it.
OH means “overheard.” An OH is kind of like an RLRT, with an important difference: You’re not supposed to name the person who said the thing you’re tweeting. Naming someone in an OH is a major breach of Twitter etiquette.
Where Things Get Weird
If you’ve been @-mentioned in a conversation on Twitter that mentions a lot of other users and that doesn’t stop until the people involved run out of things to say, congratulations! You’ve been roped into a Twitter canoe.
A canoe is a conversation on Twitter that keeps rolling and adding new people until people get annoyed or bored and stop talking to each other. Adding yourself to a Twitter canoe is a bit of a bold move—etiquette calls for someone to add you first.
Remember that time you were in high school and someone was talking about you right in front of your face, but they never said your name, and yet everyone knew they were talking about you?
A subtweet, or subliminal tweet, is like that, but on Twitter. You might call it passive-aggressive tweeting. Someone tweets something about a person or topic—usually something negative—without actually mentioning that person’s Twitter handle or linking to the topic they’re discussing. That makes it difficult for the person to find—and enraging if they do eventually discover your tweet.
@SubtweetCat is the queen of subtweeting. She literally wrote the book on social media.
When people have a lot of Very Important Things to say that cannot be confined to the constraints of 140 characters, they could write a blog post, right? But no: It’s recently become fashionable to deliver long-winded diatribes on Twitter by tweeting multiple times, adding a number and a slash mark—”1/”, “2/”, “3/”, etc.—to each tweet so their followers don’t miss a single thing they say.
This is called a tweetstorm, or Twitterstorm, for the thunderous way these multiple tweets rain down on people’s timelines.
Some people really don’t like tweetstorms, so expect some backlash if you decide to engage in one. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to tweetstorm. After you begin your tweetstorm with a “1/”, make sure you start your next tweet by replying to that first tweet. Make every subsequent tweet a reply to the previous one. That will make sure that anyone who encounters your tweetstorm can find the entire series easily.
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen is largely blamed for popularizing the tweetstorm. Note: Andreessen has a perfectly good blog.
@darth is a mysterious Twitter user who entertains people with his epic Photoshops, retweets of adorable animals, and the creation of visual memes—catchy combinations of images and text that are easy to modify and pass around. Some of his best work appears in response to ideas that are trending on Twitter as hashtags, like #conspiracybooks.
No one has yet unearthed Darth’s true identity, so we only know him as Twitter’s resident Darth-Vader-helmet-wearing red panda. If your dog is cute enough, he might just Photoshop him.
A tip to the wise: If you see an image you love in Darth’s feed, make sure to save it to your phone or PC. For some reason, Darth chooses to delete older tweets, so if you miss a great Darth Photoshop, it could be gone forever.
Images by Nigel Sussman for ReadWrite