Jeffree Star is a makeup artist and YouTube star with 2.7 million followers on Twitter, an audience large enough to get the social network’s attention. So when he tweeted this week, “Dear Twitter, we need an edit button on our tweets – Sincerely, everyone,” it wasn’t all that surprising to see Twitter’s own official account replying: “Dear everyone, Noted. 💙, Twitter.”
Star isn’t the first famous person to prod Twitter about an edit button. Back in June, Kim Kardashian West claimed she’d used Kanye West’s birthday party as an opportunity to lobby Twitter co-founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey, to introduce the feature: “I had a very good convo with @jack this week at Kanye’s bday and I think he really heard me out on the edit button.”
But while Star and Kardashian West might desperately want to avoid the inconvenience of deleting a tweet in front of an audience of many millions, introducing an edit function on Twitter would be a terrible idea. Adding the ability to retrospectively alter tweets would only add to the platform’s already fetid culture, where poor fact-checking, rampant propaganda and moronic trolling abound.
Bait-and-switch tweets would be the most obvious trap enabled by a Twitter edit function: Someone tweets something uncontroversial, you agree and they then swiftly edit it to say something appalling. The exchange is turned into a screenshot and suddenly half the internet thinks you agreed that genocide would be a great name for a perfume or that a celebrity should be chopped up into little pieces and fed to the pigs.
Of course, advocates of editable tweets have an obvious answer to that problem: A time lock on tweets allowing you to edit them for a certain period and then making them permanent after that. But that immediately introduces a level of unnecessary complexity –– what’s the right amount of time to prevent abuse while retaining the intended utility? And wouldn’t just deleting and reposting with a correction be just as simple?
Another proposed answer to the threat of people abusing a Twitter edit function is to implement edit histories on individual tweets, allowing anyone to see how and when a message was altered. A similar system is already used by Facebook. The trouble is Twitter is much faster moving than Facebook and not tied to real-world identity. How many people would take the time to check the edits on a tweet? We already know that people are inclined to share things that *seem* to conform to their assumptions without looking into them too closely.
There would also be a massive conflict between Twitter’s culture of quick retweets and the potential editing. Yes, people *could* go back to check and see if things they’ve retweeted have subsequently been edited but that’s hardly a smooth user experience. Surely by now, Twitter should realise that people with a trollish mentality will spend a lot of time and effort to cause havoc and that its platform is very fertile ground for that behaviour.
Beyond the philosophical problems with a Twitter edit feature, there’s also the practical issue of the social network’s ongoing inability to properly launch features. Threading of conversations only works sporadically, muting people and conversations is pretty broken, bookmarks are mobile-only for some reason, and Twitter recently took the very odd decision to make Moment creation into a desktop-only function. Why would anyone expect editing tweets to be deployed with any more finesse?
Still, given that Dorsey has been saying Twitter needs an edit function since 2016 and nothing has arrived yet, this might all be worry over nothing. And if Twitter *does* successfully implement an edit feature, I can just go back and fix my tweets decrying it as a terrible idea, right?