We have weathered four years of the Trump presidency, two years of a global pandemic, the worsening effects of climate change and the start of a terrible war. But if you look outside, you’ll see that (hopefully) nothing is on fire. That’s because the universe is still held together by a small, shimmering, spiderweb-thin thread, and Twitter doesn’t have an edit button.
On April Fool’s Day, Twitter tweeted that they were working on one Edit button. Luckily it was just a joke. But this week, things got a little more serious: Elon Musk bought 9.2% of Twitter for $3 billion and took a seat on the board. He then asked his 80.5 million followers if they had an edit button. To date, around 73% of over 3 million respondents have voted yes.
Twitter users have been clamoring for an edit button since the days of 140-character tweets. But like that time, when you ate a whole pizza despite being lactose intolerant and not taking your Lactaid, sometimes we want things that aren’t good for us.
Tumblr still bills itself as the Wild West, but before 2015 it was even worse — anyone could reblog your posts and have full control over them, making it seem like you said something you never said. At best, this may have taught some young millennials that you can’t believe everything you see on the internet, but that ability has been weaponized to the point that young adult novelist John Green has been bullied by the platform, which prompted Tumblr to fix the “feature”.
Targeted harassment is bad enough, but Tumblr and Twitter have fundamentally different user bases — one still cares about Supernatural in 2022, and one is the de facto water cooler for politicians, venture capitalists, tech executives, and journalists alike. Unlike Tumblr, a theoretical edit button on Twitter would only allow you to edit your own tweets, we suppose, but it’s not hard to imagine how a bad actor could exploit such a feature. Maybe a harmless tweet about a cute cat goes viral, only for the original poster to change the text to some sort of political message, inadvertently making it look like everyone who reblogged it agreed with that message. Things could get messy very quickly.
One answer could be to implement an edit button that shows when a post has been edited and allows users to view the edit history. After all, Facebook does, but it’s not as if Facebook is known for its ability to defuse misinformation.
Last month, Snopes uncovered a crypto scam in which the perpetrator edited Facebook posts for ten years to trick users into believing it was economist David Rosenberg’s legitimate profile (it wasn’t). These edited posts revealed a decade-long history of how the fake Rosenberg allegedly helped people get out of debt by investing in crypto. As a result, the scammer’s wallet address had received about 3.4 bitcoin (or about $150,000).
Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and former chief security officer at Facebook tweeted that these types of scam tactics could also be used on Twitter with an edit button. When asked about his tweet, Stamos told TechCrunch that he has seen these types of tactics successfully used by cryptocurrency scammers to steal millions of dollars.
There are a few vulnerabilities on Twitter that an edit button would fix, e.g. B. the ability to fix typos retrospectively. For journalists covering breaking news on the go, a simple thumb swipe could change something like “Musk bought 9.2% of Twitter” (correct) to “Musk bought 99.2% of Twitter” (terrifying). But these errors are best mitigated by the journalist acknowledging the error and correcting the error in a subsequent tweet — one technique might be to scan the tweet, delete it, and post an update alongside the screenshot correcting the error to post. This method isn’t perfect, as people might have already seen the wrong information, but an edit button doesn’t necessarily help because anyone who saw the tweet before editing it won’t know it was later fixed.
Twitter Blue, the platform’s subscription product, already has a feature that delays the posting of a tweet by a few seconds (users can choose how long) – before that period of time elapses, you can click an “undo” button that lets you You can go back and edit the tweet before actually posting it. For such common problems as typos, this feature should suffice. But if Musk’s followers get their way and Twitter puts up an edit button… now we’re actually going to lose sleep.