You have either asked me to retweet a post or to draw the attention of my followers to a particular site. It is quite probable that you want to alert as many people as possible to a worthy cause, an extraordinary person or perhaps a landmark day or event that should be celebrated and recognised by as many people as can be reached. It is just as probable that I heartily approve of your cause and its aims. And yet I am sending you here to this page on my website instead of complying with your simple and reasonable request. What on earth am I playing at? How can I be so uncharitable, so unfeeling? With a quarter of a million followers isn’t it my duty to use my captive twitter audience for good and noble ends?
Well yes. But try and understand how difficult it is to comply with your wishes for a number of reasons.
If I direct followers’ attention to one site on request, then don’t I have to for all?
Suppose I miss a particular request, suppose I just don’t see it stream past me?
Suppose one such ‘charity’ is revealed to be rather more self-interested and less charitable than I had supposed, not unlike certain appeals for sponsorship that have turned out to be little short of attempts to get money for a nice long holiday for some enterprising scamster? How can I have time to check out the dozens and dozens of sites a day? And yet, if I don’t, how can I be confident that I am not leading my followers astray and giving the oxygen of publicity to frauds?
Most worryingly of all, how can I guarantee that your site is robust enough take the sudden burst of traffic that a retweet from me will inevitably cause? I have to be realistic about this. It isn’t vanity or braggadocio, but simply a melancholy facing of the fact that when I tweet a site that site will get inevitably get stormed, stampeded and smashed into collapse. It has happened too often for me to doubt it, and after webmasters have sworn blind to me that their servers and hosts can easily shoulder the burden. It has happened to highly capitalised major servers that one really might have expected to be structurally sounder. The power of Twitter is only just being understood. The last thing I would want is to be responsible for slash-dotting worthy, important and useful services.
The only answer to all these problems, so far as I can see, is to take the following step with regard to any request for worthy retweets or the passing on of charitable links.
1. Include the hashtag #fryretweet somewhere in the body of your post to me. If you are unclear about how hashtags work, look here. Essentially though, all you need to know is that #fryretweet should be in the body of your tweet.
2. Once a week, I will select one cause from the mass in the #fryretweet search. I will select more or less at random, check the one I have chosen for server resilience, kosher qualities of worthiness and so on. Then I will tweet the link I will have been asked to tweet.
3. The next week I will search amongst the next seven days #fryretweet posts. If you wish to resubmit your worthy site, then simply make sure you repost with the hashtag each week. The odds are against my being able to do anything for you, but that is probably better than my breaking your site.
Please note that this does not apply to anything commercial. Only genuinely deserving, insofar as I am able to judge, entries will be considered.
Let’s see if this works. If not, I’ll refine or alter the system and try and let you know.
Thanks for dropping by. See you in twitterland…
© Stephen Fry 2009
Producer note: A number of you have made comments about being blocked and expressed some disappointment. Please be assured that it is due to a technical bug and not because @stephenfry has deliberately blocked you. I’ll contact each of you that have made a comment on here asking you to send me your Twitter user profile name so you can be unblocked. If you don’t hear from me, please email email@example.com Best wishes, Andrew Sampson, www.stephenfry.com producer.