If former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey liked to sing, I imagine that Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is what he started hollering in his car or on the beach when he saw that Twitter was yet again testing a feature he swore it would “probably” never implement.
Twitter on Thursday dropped a virtual bomb on its platform when it announced that it was testing out an edit button feature (known as Edit Tweet) internally. After asking for an edit button for 15 years and receiving roundabout answers from Twitter, users were skeptical. Let’s not forget that Twitter said it was working on an edit button on April Fool’s Day this year as a joke.
Even I was doubtful and honestly thought the email I got from Twitter sharing the news was spam (Twitter’s comms team seemily anticipated this and included “(yes, seriously)” in the subject line). But no, it was true.
“if you see an edited Tweet it’s because we’re testing the edit button,” the company tweeted from its official account Thursday morning. “this is happening and you’ll be okay.”
According to Twitter, it is currently testing out the edit button internally and will roll it out to subscribers of Twitter Blue, its paid service, in a few weeks. Although the test only involves select users in a test group as of now, the company said all users will be able to see whether a tweet has been edited.
Now, having an edit button doesn’t mean that you can go crazy and start tweaking everything you’ve ever tweeted. For the purposes of its test, Twitter has put a time limit on the edit button, only allowing users to modify their tweets for 30 minutes after they publish them. From its announcement, it appears that the company doesn’t want the edit button will be a big part of users’ experience.
“Think of it as a short period of time to do things like fix typos, add missed tags, and more,” Twitter wrote in its blog. “Edited Tweets will appear with an icon, timestamp, and label so it’s clear to readers that the original Tweet has been modified.”
In addition, the original tweet doesn’t disappear. Twitter explained that when users tap the label on the tweet they will be able to see its edit history, which will include past versions of the tweet.
“For context, the time limit and version history play an important role here. They help protect the integrity of the conversation and create a publicly accessible record of what was said,” Twitter said.
The company pointed out that it hoped the edit button would allow users to feel more comfortable and less stressed when they tweet.
Although many users rejoiced, Twitter’s announcement of an edit button sparked immediate concern among people that work against misinformation, such as journalists, who worried about how the new feature would affect the fight against lies on the platform, especially in light of the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. Some also pointed out that the platform could be misused by trolls or harmful users who simply go back and edit their original statements.
“They’d better be very confident this isn’t just a license for trolls to retroactively edit and escape the consequences of their words,” tweeted James Benge, a soccer correspondent for CBS Sports. “If you tweet something abusive and then just go back and change yet, yeah there’s going to be a paper trail. But are [sic] Twitter actually going to hold you responsible for something you’ve tweeted then edited when they’re so bad at doing the same on unedited tweets?”
Timothy Caulfield, a researcher at the University of Alberta who studies health misinformation, told Gizmodo via direct message that he could see the pros and the cons of an edit button on Twitter. On a personal level, Caulfield, who is an avid tweeter, said he loved it because he was the “typo king.”
Yet, as a researcher, Caulfield said he was worried that the edit button could hurt the maintenance of the record of what was said.
“Will that ‘in the moment’ content be lost? If a politician says something outrageous — something that reveals something about their true state of mind — will they try to edit away the controversy? COVFEFE.” he said, referencing former President Donald Trump’s famous and mysterious typo. “You will be seeing that word a lot today.”
In a tweet, Jay Sullivan, Twitter’s general manager of consumer and revenue product, said that the test group for the feature is small in order to help the company better understand how people use the feature as well as identify and fix potential issues, such as how folks might misuse it.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that people, especially those in the public spotlight, will be able to lean on the edit button for everything, Caulfield pointed out.
“Screenshots will happen!” the researcher said.