As Elon Musk moves forward with his efforts to buy Twitter TWTR-N and potentially bring in a range of changes, social media experts say adding an edit feature is not as simple as it seems and could have negative consequences.
Musk has hinted that an edit feature could be coming after polling Twitter users about it earlier in April, something that has much more resonance after he struck a deal to acquire the tech giant for US$44-billion on Monday.
Right now, a user would have to delete a tweet and repost an updated version if they want to make any changes, which could be annoying or embarrassing, especially if you’re seeing engagement in the initial tweet.
Jim Anderson, social media sector lead at venture capital firm Glasswing Ventures, said in an interview that an edit option could create an avenue for misinformation to propagate if not implemented with care and transparency in mind.
A potential scenario that could come up, he explains, involves a malicious actor tweeting something positive or innocuous, the tweet gaining traction, people retweeting it, and the original poster then going in and making edits, ultimately changing the meaning of the tweet.
Other popular social media networks like Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn give users the ability to easily edit their posts. But Twitter functions a bit differently than these companies and is less about connecting with family and friends, showing photos and videos, advertising products through social media influencers or building connections to boost your career – although some of that happens on the platform anyway.
Twitter allows users to discover what’s going on in the world and generate or share real-time information and ideas via succinct posts of 280 characters or less. It has become a trending topic hot spot, with users ranging from everyday people and journalists to CEOs, politicians and celebrities.
“The environment is different and the modality in which a connection is made is different,” Anderson said.
Philip Mai, co-director of the Social Media Lab at Toronto Metropolitan University says “the devil is in the details” when it comes to adding an edit feature to Twitter.
To mitigate some of the risks, Mai said that an easy and accessible one-click link or button that takes users to a dedicated page or pop-up info box showing the changes made to a particular tweet, similar to Google Docs, could be a helpful approach.
If Musk follows through with tweet-editing, Mai does expect to see a visible feature, not a hidden one, that lets people know that a tweet has been edited. He also predicts that there will be a time limit for usage of the edit feature on a post.
“The window of time for when a user can still edit a tweet will likely be short,” he said.
As users wait to see how all of this plays out, Twitter has said it has been playing around with an edit feature and will test it out within its premium subscription product, Twitter Blue.
Mai said that for many years, an edit option was not a priority because it was not viewed as a revenue generator. Through Twitter Blue, he says the company now has “a vehicle to monetize this feature.”
But the question is whether it will remain a premium feature or become standard for everyday users if it officially gets added to the platform at all.
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