Last modified: December 8th, 2022 at 12:46 pm
Update: Twitter has confirmed that it is indeed working on an edit button, and it will be coming to Twitter Blue Labs in the “coming months” for testing.
Jay Sullivan, Twitter vice president for consumer product, stated that the aim is to do it “in a safe manner” to ensure it can’t be abused in the ways outlined later in this post. “Without things like time limits, controls, and transparency about what has been edited, Edit could be misused to alter the record of the public conversation,” he tweeted. “Protecting the integrity of that public conversation is our top priority when we approach this work.”
The original piece continues below.
Elon Musk, the billionaire who made his fortune with PayPal before founding Tesla and SpaceX, is now Twitter’s largest shareholder. That’s convenient, given he’s also one of its most prolific users — something that’s a bit of a mixedblessing for those that rely on him for their livelihood.
And we may just have an early taste as to how he intends to use this position of influence, as he immediately posted a poll to his followers asking them if they wanted Twitter to add in an ‘edit button’.
Presumably to emphasise why such a button should exist, Musk stuck in two typos: people can only vote “yse” or “on”, which is the kind of mistake which would null an actual referendum in most functioning democracies.
But if there’s one thing Twitter isn’t, it’s a functioning democracy, and it’s unclear whether the poll — which is currently heading for a landslide yse triumph — will actually lead to a change in policy at Twitter.
While the company’s CEO Parag Agrawal retweeted it, stating that the “consequences of this poll will be important,” he could simply be referencing a Musk Tweet from last month, which used exactly the same phrasing.
Judging from the response, this wasn’t given the grave consideration requested. Who’d have thought reducing the democratic process to a single click could lower the bar even further?
The back and forth over whether Twitter should have an edit button has been going on for years. The argument for it is pretty obvious: there’s nothing worse than seeing your tweet go unexpectedly viral, and then having 200 people tell you that you’ve spelled floccinaucinihilipilification wrong (your idea of a viral tweet may differ to mine).
Equally, if you’re being dogpiled by jerks — something alarmingly common on the platform — then being able to edit your words would certainly be helpful. Currently the only option is to delete and start over, which loses any momentum your tweet may already have gained.
An open-and-shut case then? No, not really. The problem with adding an edit button is that the way retweets work is that they appear on your timeline for others to read. If someone can edit their tweets after you’ve republished them, they could make you endorse any message they like. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how that could be abused by propagandists spreading disinformation, disguised as something benign.
Former CEO Jack Dorsey made this point during a Wired video FAQ back in 2020, and also added that it would change the way Twitter feels.
“The reason there’s no edit button, and hasn’t been traditionally is that we started as an SMS, text message service,” he said. “And as you all know, when you send a text, you can’t really take it back. We wanted to preserve that vibe and that feeling, in the early days.”
The company’s paid service — Twitter Blue — does offer an ‘undo tweet’ function. But all that really does is hold your tweet for 60 seconds before sending, which is something you could do free of charge with a bit of patience and an egg timer.
So will Musk’s influence finally give Twitter users that edit button they’ve always wanted? Maybe, but you should probably be careful what you wish for.