Reviews | Twitter edit button argument is about vibration

Twitter users (sorry, “users”) who notice errors in their (oops, make that “their”) posts have throughout the history of the platform have found themselves out of lukc (agh, ” chance” !). They demand an edit button, and eventually the company seems ready to give it to them.

The idea seems trivial, even obvious. Yet it has caused meme-worthy controversies. The reason for this clamor is perhaps less practical than philosophical.

Elon Musk would probably tell you he has to thank for Twitter’s recent statement that he’s finally testing an editing tool. The part-time Tesla CEO, part-time internet troll and now part-time activist investor in the social media site he loves to hate post a poll shortly after acquiring its 9.2% share: Did people want the button — “yes” or “on”?

Twitter says the influx of “yeses” did not influence its decision. In any case, the richest man in the world had, as usual, reduced a deceptively complicated subject to a handful of flippant tweets.

Ask his supporters, and the edit button is for typos. Why should we suffer the sin of confusing “your” with “you are,” or misspelling Pete Buttigieg, or even mistaking a congressman for a senator before we’ve had a chance to drink our coffee? The only options are to delete (and lose all likes and retweets), respond to our own missive with a sheepish correction, or allow our mistakes to live on in embarrassing perpetuity.

Or maybe the edit button is meant to clarify our meaning when we haven’t taken the time to consider how a constantly mocking internet might interpret our well-meaning comment about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars. Don’t we deserve the opportunity to add the caveat, perhaps parenthetically, that violence is never acceptable?

The problem is, for every fair and typo-averse citizen, there’s a bad actor willing to outsmart any new system. Imagine someone edits a tweet after it goes viral, so that a heartwarming video of a tiger nursing an orphaned piglet is replaced with misinformation about the origins of the coronavirus. Dangerous content could travel on the Internet incognito; likers and retweeters of the innocuous original version could be accused of endorsing the inflammatory revision.

People who post hateful or harassing material could also edit it after the fact, skeptics suggested, and evade law enforcement before coming out and repeating the offence. Think of Donald Trump altering his stolen election statements to avoid discipline after learning exactly what language needs exactly what changes to avoid crossing a line – and arguing that he is not a repeat offender after all. Had he been lucky enough to do as much editing as he tweeted during his scheduled “executive time,” his account might still exist.

These reviews don’t really justify the lack of a button. They plead for a well created button. If you want to allow people to edit inconsequential errors but not rewrite entire stories, limit the number of characters they can edit. If you want to allow reconsiderations in the moment without risking an already popular tweet morphing in front of millions of people, limit the time window for adjustments.

The simplest mitigation of all is one that Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn already have in place: edited items indicate that they’ve been edited.

So why on the World Wide Web did it take Twitter so long to provide users with what they were asking for? Ask Jack Dorsey.

“I own Twitter,” the company’s now-deceased CEO said two years ago when asked if he would introduce the feature in 2020. “The answer is no.” His position stemmed from concerns about abuse, but it mostly stemmed from something deeper. Twitter started as a text messaging service: send 140 characters to a short code, and boom: you’ve written a tweet.

“When you text, you can’t really take it back,” he explained. “We wanted to keep that vibe.

So it’s an atmosphere. The point isn’t the typos, and it’s not the exploitation. Point is what is twitter as a service. The site, more than any other network, attempts to mimic real-life conversation, down to the minute: overlaying the physical domain onto the digital domain, and blasting every conversation we’ve ever had into thousands and thousands of times. Cut.

There is no replay when texting or talking. To contextualize or clarify, you need to say a whole new phrase – you can’t just rewind and repeat an old one. There’s only “oops” and “my bad” and living with the consequences. Maybe it’s for better and maybe for worse, but it’s definitely Twitter. With an edit button, this will no longer be the case. This is probably what Elon Musk wants.

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