Make Twitter’s edit button obvious, ugly and fleeting

Ah, the Twitter edit button.

For nearly two decades, hot-take miners have debated the merits of this mythical trait in the commentary coal mine. Opponents doubt it will functionalize the site and fear it will muddy the already brackish waters; Proponents hope it will improve discourse while eliminating typos.

(The surest way to proofread prose is by publication, at which point any unhappiness becomes apparent, while a dozen more elegant formulations of your bien pensée appear like so many esprits de l’escalier.)

But the old order is changing and making way for new ones, and Iron Man is materializing in many ways.

Elon Musk’s recent acquisition of 9.2% of Twitter and his rise to the company’s board of directors was accompanied by a typically mischievous Twitter poll of his, asking, “Do you want an edit button?” at the time of writing Article, 4,406,764 votes were cast: 73.6% for, 26.4% against.

Twitter reacted defensively to the ensuing excitement, protesting that it had been working on an edit button for months before Musk dropped $2.9 billion to become a “passive investor.”

Never mind that such protests came uncomfortably with a retweet of Musk’s lure from Twitter’s CEO Parag Agrawal, who said, “The ramifications of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully.”

Some websites have editing built into their DNA. Wikipedia is based not only on the continuous modernization and moderation of its pages, but on the public availability of their (sometimes tormented) development. Donald Trump’s 16,806-word entry, for example, averages 7.3 edits per day – each of which is visible and comparable if you have the humanity to click through the links. In a meta triumph worthy of Facebook, you can even explore the page history of the Wikipedia page dedicated to explaining Wikipedia’s page history:

LinkedIn takes a less responsible approach when both posts and articles are editable – although neither tracks changes, and while the former displays an “Edited” warning, the latter does not:

“Your contacts will not be notified when you update your article, and there is no indication that the article has been edited. Once your changes have been saved, the original version of the article will no longer be available.”

On Twitter, however, such tacit corrections to published tweets would be dangerous to the public and disastrous to private reputations. Imagine liking, retweeting, or positively commenting on a video of adorable otters holding paws, only for it to be secretly updated into a tirade of racial slurs. Demolition culture might be a buzzword, but it’s also a buzz saw — people get murdered at the push of a button, and rarely with due process.

If Twitter is to embrace editability, a number of tweaks could improve the change.

Stylistically, edits should be immediately flashy (to make changes obvious and irreversible) and also somewhat inelegant (to discourage all but the most urgent). One approach could be that of Twitter bot Editing The Gray Lady, which employs clear but clunky color-coded tracking to highlight changes on the New York Times front page.

Such legalistic highlight-and-strikeout formatting would inevitably affect the character and character count of edited tweets. But in the ever-changing maelstrom of social media, clear tracking must surely be more secure than click-links to edit logs or hover-over pop-ups for version histories.

Technically, it makes sense to limit the number of edits (e.g. to one) to prevent endless editing ping-pong, and shorten the editing window (e.g. to a minute) to correct typos and lengthy ones to avoid changes. cock manipulation.

(Twitter Blue, the company’s premium subscription service, is already approaching this functionality with Undo Tweet, which offers a pre-publish preview period of up to 60 seconds before a post goes live.)

To the extent that editing tweets empowers the author, it should also protect the audience. Therefore, even with such limitations, it would be desirable for Twitter to notify any user who has interacted with an edited post that a change has been made (providing an opportunity to revisit the interaction) and offer a opt-out that happens automatically -Delete interactions from all edited posts. Also, it should be possible to show interactions before and after editing (with an icon or text color) to protect users from accidental misunderstandings or cynical misattributions.

The risk of Twitter introducing a free-running editing feature without such stylistic and technical guard rails would be to further destabilize an already precarious discourse. Just as lies can gird the world before the truth has been misted, a corrective tweet “seldom makes the numbers” of its deceptive ancestor. How much more dangerous (and toxic) will Twitter become when every post can be retroactively armed in an endless fandango of bait and switches?

More from authors at Bloomberg Opinion:

• Elon Musk got a Twitter board seat: Matt Levine

The lofty ideals of the Google AI Unit are fraught with secrecy: Parmy Olson

The invasion will be TikTokked: Stephen L. Carter

This column does not necessarily represent the opinion of the editors or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Ben Schott is advertising and branding columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. He created the series Schott’s Original Miscellany and Schott’s Almanac and writes for newspapers and magazines around the world.

For more stories like this, visit bloomberg.com/opinion

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