When Is It OK To Send Fake Retweets On Twitter?

Answer: never.

It’s never OK to pen a tweet that starts with “RT @username” and then make up something that that user didn’t tweet. However, this simple rule appears to be too much for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), whose Twitter account sent out a number of fake retweets yesterday “from” Harry Reid, Barack Obama and others – retweets that were never actually tweets to begin with.

Prepare for one of those jaw-dropping “I can’t believe they actually did that” moments. That’s what I went through when I first heard this story, at least, and I think it’s what anyone with any sense of what Twitter is about and an ethical backbone would think, too.

On Monday, the NRSC Twitter account (@NRSC) sent several retweets of prominent Democratic politicians professing to have failed to produce a budget, linking to a website which they say hosts the Democrats new budgetary efforts. And that website? It’s a blank page.

Now, if this was all there was to it, there would be no story here. However, the NRSC’s social media “expert” (quotations used not because of the term itself, but because anyone who came up with this strategy can’t really call themselves an expert) must’ve thought it was a good idea to completely make up these retweets out of thin air.

No, Barack Obama did not say that his budget “failed 0-97 but wait till you see @SenateDems budget.” And Harry Reid doesn’t think he’s foolish for not telling his Twitter followers about the new budget website (which is blank, if you remember). All of the “retweets” that appear on the NRSC’s timeline are not, in fact, retweets at all. None of them appear in any original form on the account quoted in the retweet. The NRSC must’ve made up the tweets and attributed them to Democrats they wanted to signal out.

Could politics get any dirtier?

I guess this was all an attempt to smear the Democrats mentioned in the retweets, but the joke’s got to be on the NRSC. As Mediaite reports, even some Fox News contributors are ashamed at the NRSC’s lack of ethical tweeting.

Of course, some will call this “parody” or freedom of speech. And they can have their opinions. Mine is that, as a political organization, you have some responsibility to be transparent and honest in whatever public communication you put out there. Fake retweeting is as bad as intentionally mis-quoting someone on TV or in an article. Sure, it might fly under the radar in the majority of cases, but it’s unethical and dilutes the already weak trust that people have in political institutions as it is.

So, take a lesson from the NRSC and don’t make up fake retweets. Ever. It’s not right, it’s not productive, and most of the time, it’s not even funny (if that is even the intention to begin with).