This week Twitter confirmed it’s going to be adding an ‘edit’ button, which on the surface seems like a great idea. But, when you unpack it, what does this mean for accountability for a site that already struggles to rein in the trolls as it is?
On Tuesday April 5, the app’s comms team confirmed the company is currently working on developing an ‘edit’ button. That means users would be able to change tweets after they have been posted, which is currently only possible on apps like Facebook and Instagram.
Did Elon Musk Make it Happen?
The news of the upcoming feature comes after new board member, Tesla boss Elon Musk, asked his followers in a Twitter poll whether they wanted the feature.
However when announcing the news, Twitter said they did not get it from a poll, insinuating that Musk didn’t have influence over the decision after he purchased 9.2 percent of the company.
What does it mean for accountability?
Currently if you send a tweet and there’s a mistake – whether a spelling or grammar error, or instant regret for the comment you’ve made – you have to delete the tweet and repost it. But, depending on how large a following you’ve got, it may mean it’s already been viewed. That allows celebrities, politicians, and other well-known people to be held accountable.
However, with the ability to edit, it means people would be able to not only rectify any errors but also take back an offensive or horrific messages without actually being held accountable for them.
Twitter is already the go-to app for trolls looking for a more anonymous outlet – as was witnessed during Euro 2020 when many young players were subjected to horrific racist and abusive comments. However, unless the tweet was deleted the evidence was clear as day.
If an ‘edit’ button was available would it mean more people can get away with terrible behaviour? With so many already hiding behind anonymity, this could potentially make accountability even more difficult.
Also, what would it mean for reactions? Say someone posted a tweet that was harmless, pleasant and gathered loads of likes and retweets – then was quietly edited to be something more sinister. Next thing you know you’ve got loads of Twitter users seemingly liking and retweeting something potentially harmful, offensive, abusive, prejudiced or racist. Not good.
Suddenly you could have more scandals and problems through this manipulation of the feature.
This point was also made by Lewis Wiltshire, the former head of sport at Twitter, who said introducing the new feature would be a “mistake” given the site’s influence on global affairs and the potential impact that amending posts could have.
He went on to say: ‘If they did it, within weeks there would be a scandal where a tweet was subtly but fundamentally altered after it received thousands of likes. On this platform, more than any other, that has the potential to change the course of global affairs. Now would not be the time.’
Making the feature safe
Other companies, such as Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, allows other users to view a version of the post that has been edited and unedited. That way, people are able to see what changes are made to posts and comments, making the feature safer for those who know how to use it correctly.
With this Jay Sullivan, the company’s vice president of consumer product, explained in a thread that had been the most requested feature over the years and also added that Twitter was exploring how to build the feature “in a safe manner” – possibly similar to their Meta rivals current system.
He added: ‘Therefore, it will take time and we will be actively seeking input and adversarial thinking in advance of launching Edit. We will approach this feature with care and thoughtfulness and we will share updates as we go.
‘This is just one feature we are exploring as we work to give people more choice and control over their Twitter experience, foster a healthy conversation, and help people be more comfortable on Twitter. These are the things that motivate us every day.’
Should we have an ‘edit’ button? If we could trust the public to use the app responsibly, as it is, then I would see no issues.
But while we live in a world where these global companies could and don’t put an end to the abuse and racism rife on the apps, it may not be Twitter’s wisest move.