Twitter users have been asking to edit their tweets since the service launched in 2006. It’s since been one of the most requested Twitter features, with a number of high profile users asking the service to include it. Makeup artist and YouTuber Jeffree Star got Twitter’s attention with an October tweet asking for an edit button, and the service replied to his tweet saying that the request was ‘noted’. Kim Kardashian West even made a personal plea to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at husband Kanye West’s birthday party in June 2018.
Despite the many requests, Twitter still seemed uninterested in adding an edit button until several months ago. However, Star and Kardashian West wold have been pleased to hear that Dorsey was open to the idea on 12 November at a tech conference in New Delhi.
“You have to pay attention to what are the use cases for the edit button. A lot of people want the edit button because they want to quickly fix a mistake they made. Like a misspelling or tweeting the wrong URL. That’s a lot more achievable than allowing people to edit any tweet all the way back in time …We have been considering this for a while and we have to do in the right way. We can’t just rush it out. We can’t make something which is distracting or takes anything away from the public record.”
However, Twitter also recently abandoned another of their core features in late 2017, when they doubled the character limit for tweets from 140 to 280. The addition of an edit button is not inconceivable, although it would make the platform unrecognisable from its initial iteration focused on short, unchangeable bon mots.
The mention of the ‘public record’ is notable due to the special situation of the site’s perhaps most famous user, @realDonaldTrump. The Tweeter in Chief posts almost daily about his political views, policy changes, and grievances (with no end in sight). As President of the United States, Donald Trump is in the unique position of having all of his “documentary material” archived as being in the official public record. While at first there was some confusion over whether the tweets on his personal account would count as official material, it has since been clarified that all of his tweets are a part of the public record. The Department of Justice clarified the federal government’s official position on Trump’s presidential and personal twitter accounts, stating that “the statements….[are] official statements of the President of the United States”. Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has also said that Trump’s tweets are “official statements by the President of the United States”. Under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, all presidential records must be maintained and owned by the federal government, and transferred to the archivist of the United States after the president leaves office. If a tweet is part of the official Presidential public record, is it legal for the tweet to be edited or deleted? Can the President of the United States block citizen Twitter followers from reading the public record? This classification raises a number of tricky questions about access, archival methods, and truth.
Dorsey also noted that any edit feature would likely be limited, to prevent unreasonable or vindictive alterations to tweets. It would be too easy for users to edit their tweets after the fact, or to change the tweet so that users inadvertently retweet something that they don’t agree with. The edit feature could all too easily be abused. Maybe tweets could only be edited once, or in the first 30 seconds after being sent. Whatever the case, unlimited editing power would not be constructive or useful.
The edit button is overall not a good idea – if users are that worried about typos, tweets should be carefully revised before pressing the “send” button. Typos are usually not the end of the world – even if you’re Trump tweeting about ‘covfefe’. If anything, Twitter without an edit button is a good incentive to tweet slowly and with caution, forcing people to type and revise tweets with care.
Despite Twitter’s acknowledgement of the issue, there are currently no updates on if or when the edit feature would be implemented on the platform.