Today, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took questions from Twitter users about what they want the company to do better in 2017. Dorsey seemed receptive to one idea that Twitter’s power users have been begging for: the ability to edit tweets. This is an awful idea.
With the rise of fake news, trust in things posted online is at an all-time low. So why would Twitter add a feature that might make a user second guess what they’re reading? If a your tweet has a typo or an error, there’s a super easy way to fix it: just delete it and repost the tweet. If you were able to edit a tweet even minutes after sending it, you could easily trick a lot of people. More specifically, tweets with breaking news can be retweeted hundreds of times in just a matter of minutes, so if someone was to change a tweet after it has been retweeted 300 times, things could get messy.
Maybe Twitter could solve this by adding an icon to indicate that the a tweet has been edited, but then how would you know to what degree it was edited? Twitter could add a revision history in order to combat this, but 140 character tweets with a revision history attached seems excessive. And what if a crucial piece of information is subtly changed so that it modifies the entire meaning of the tweet? And what if you retweeted some sentiment that you agreed with, only to find that the tweet you just endorsed has been changed to mean something entirely different? I could go on.
Editing tweets would be an easy way for sloppy reporters to spread misinformation and sew confusion or for trolls to spread falsehoods. Here’s a hypothetical scenario: a reporter tweets about a gunman at the intersection of Green Street and Third Avenue. The tweet is retweeted and shared hundreds of times in just a few minutes. But then, the reporter realizes he misheard the police scanner and realizes there was no gunman at all. So he edits the tweet, leaving little trace of the original error—unless Twitter imposes that clunky revision history feature that users would probably ignore.
In theory, editing tweets sounds nice, especially for quickly correcting typos, but there is no conceivable way to build a tweet editing feature that wouldn’t somehow lead to misinformation or even be abused. Part of the brilliance that Twitter useful is knowing that the tweet you’re seeing can’t been modified. Changing that principle would make Twitter even more confusing and less reliable.
If this hasn’t convinced you that editing tweets is a terrible idea, try out this fun thought experiment: what kind of shit would Donald Trump pull if he was able to edit tweets?