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The Tale of Twitter’s ‘Edit’ Button

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Twitter, on April 5, 2022, confirmed that it has started working on an edit button that would allow users to change their tweets after they have been posted. This marks a significant moment in the history of the social media platform as it has time and again denied the need of an edit button. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey held firm against Kim Kardasian’s pleas regarding an edit button when she concerned him at Kanye West’s birthday party. In 2021, Twitter told its users that “you don’t need an edit button, you just need to forgive yourself.” 

The platform’s announcement of it being working on an edit button came on the heels of a Twitter poll by its newly appointed board member, Elon Musk whereby he asked his followers if they wanted the feature. 

The social media firm’s communications team tweeted: “Now that everyone is asking… yes, we’ve been working on an edit feature since last year!

“No, we didn’t get the idea from a poll 😉,” it added.

“We’re kicking off testing within @TwitterBlue Labs in the coming months to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what’s possible.”

The idea behind the edit button is that it would allow Twitter users to fix any errors and typos in a tweet without giving up on any retweets, likes or replies it has already accrued. 

Jay Sullivan, the company’s vice president of consumer product, said it had been “the most requested Twitter feature for many years” in a thread on Tuesday.

However, he said the company was exploring how to build the feature “in a safe manner”.

“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 said. “Protecting the integrity of that public conversation is our top priority when we approach this work.”

Twitter’s upcoming edit button is, however, raising concerns about abuse and misuse of the feature. These concerns primarily stem from Twitter’s own reluctance of adding the feature in the past. During a talk in 2018, Jack Dorsey expressed his concern that an edit button could let users change the meaning of a tweet after being widely shared. In 2020, Dorsey said that Twitter would “probably never” add the feature. 

Christina Wodtke, a lecturer in computer science at Stanford University raised a similar point regarding the new feature. She argues using a hypothetical situation that a user like Donald Trump, comes back on the platform and tweets something shocking and offensive. The edit button feature would give him the power to edit his tweet into a more blunt one compared to the sharp original tweet. But, in the meantime people would have already responded to his tweet, making their reactions seem nonsensical. 

Hence, it is important to see how Twitter executes the edit button without the possibility of such a situation. 

An obvious solution to this kind of a problem is a change of log edits, similar to Slack and Facebook where people can view the history of changes on a post. Facebook has allowed its users to edit their posts since 2012, however, its feature has been misused by scammers. According to Alex Stamos, Meta’s former chief security officer, Facebook’s post-editing tools had been abused to help a cryptocurrency scam page to con its users. Third-party tools similar ro change of log edits exist for Twitter bios, such as Spoonbill, which tracks how a person’s profile has been amended over time.

But, such tracking introduces new problems. It exacerbates the issue of privacy and security of the user who might not wish to consent to the platform keeping a track of the history of their edited tweets. The user might not want the original tweet to be accessible. There is also the fear of the edit feature leading to a rise in disinformation or misinformation on the platform, the former meaning—deliberately sharing incorrect information, the latter meaning—accidentally doing so—which are already in abundance on the platform. One 2018 academic paper found that fake news travels six times faster than the truth on Twitter, in large part because falsehoods are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than fact-based posts.This fear arises from the fact that the edit button could let users change the context of the original tweet, generating chaos and confusion on the platform. 

It all boils down to how the social media company decides to execute its new edit feature. The execution of the feature would determine whether it will add to or help reduce the issue of disinformation on the platform. Yevgeniy Golovchenko, who studies disinformation at the University of Copenhagen pointed towards the contextual AI systems which would have the ability to understand the tweet and intervene if it changes too much. But, this also raises the question of efficiency of AI in detecting contexts of tweets, especially in non-English and non-western languages, in which media giants invest very little. Social media platforms like twitter are based on interaction between humans and technology. Any change that occurs on the platform would initiate a change in the way people interact with it, which is why it has to be careful while implementing a major feature that has been long stalled by the company itself.

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