An edit button won’t fix Twitter’s problems

Twitter has resisted adding the ability to edit tweets for years, even though this has been the most requested feature from its users, including would-be owner Elon Musk. Former chief executive Jack Dorsey said in 2020 that the company would probably never introduce an edit button, explaining that doing so would ruin the “vibe” from Twitter’s early days as an SMS messaging service.

Experts have repeatedly pointed out that the ability to edit tweets could allow bad actors to rewrite history and spread misinformation, even if a full history of tweets is available.

For example, harmless tweets that go viral could easily be edited to later display disinformation or hate speech, and even if the tweet’s previous versions are visible, that doesn’t necessarily mean people will look at them. An edit button would also, in theory, make high-profile users whose tweets garner mass attention even bigger targets for hacking, if bad actors know the tweets are guaranteed a mass audience.

Users will be alerted to the fact that tweets have been edited by an icon, time stamp, and label, which Twitter said is designed to make it clear that the original message has been modified within half an hour of being sent. Tweets can be edited “a few times” within that time frame, and a log of how a tweet has been changed will be displayed when someone taps the label.

Twitter has acknowledged that people might misuse the feature and says it is testing for that potential. It’s likely an attempt to downplay the significance, says Konstantinos Komaitis, an internet policy expert.

“Depending on how Twitter decides to design this, it can either help people with typos and there’s nothing more to it, or it can actually shift, I believe, the whole public discourse and the way we interact and share an understanding,” he says.

Giving users an edit button could also be interpreted as a handy distraction from the deeper problems the platform is dealing with: its forthcoming legal tussle with Musk, the glaring privacy and security issues laid bare by former security head turned whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, and ongoing concerns about its deep-seated inability to curb trolling, hate speech, and other toxic behaviors. An edit button does nothing to solve these issues.

Alerting users that a tweet has been edited will be essential to minimizing the possibility for abuse, Komaitis pointed out, using the example of someone tweeting a picture of a cute dog to generate positive responses and then swapping it for a picture of Hitler.

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