After years of public pestering, Twitter has finally begun work on an edit button, the company announced this week.
The ability to alter existing tweets has long been the platform’s most-requested feature, according to a vice-president, Jay Sullivan. But the company has expressed concerns that an edit button could be “misused to alter the record of the public conversation”. “Protecting the integrity of that public conversation is our top priority when we approach this work,” Sullivan wrote.
Indeed, the new feature could be a boon for prominent tweeters who frequently put their foot in their mouth, digitally speaking. If the edit button had been around in years past, what might politicians, celebrities and influencers have gotten away with?
These days, Donald Trump is busy spouting indisputable facts on the very popular and very successful Truth Social – lotta people are saying it’s better than Facebook and Instagram and, frankly, the best social network ever created. But some readers may remember that the former president was once a Twitter user. Trump would adore the editing feature, which would allow him to claim that no, he never said that. “Covfefe”? You must have misread it – that was a warning about Covid, three years in advance. All those attacks on Barack Obama for golfing that you think you remember are, on review, sympathetic tweets saying that a president needs some downtime on the green. (Edits seem likely to be marked as such under the new feature, but Trump has never let documentation of falsehoods stand in his way.)
The 40-day retirement
In January, Tom Brady was doing “a lot of reflecting and asking myself difficult questions”, as he reported on Twitter on 1 February. That reflection led to a decision that “it’s best I leave the field of play to the next generation”. He must have done even more reflecting and posed even harder questions because 40 days later, he’d “realized my place is still on the field”. Twitter’s new feature could save him some embarrassment although it would be too late to stop the presses on Sports Illustrated “the GOAT says goodbye” special issues..
The mysterious letter
In 2014, the entrepreneur and TV host issued a statement consisting of a picture of a cow behind a fence, along with the letter L. Was it a secret message to her friends in a conspiratorial underground network? A Sesame Street-esque tribute to her favorite letter? Did her cat just walk daintily across the keyboard? Perhaps she dropped one of the CBD gummies she now shills. It would be easy to edit this one to “lovely lovely horse”. Although, come to think of it, Martha might have some other tweets she wants to revisit before she gets to this one..
The star-studded selfie
Speaking of images, Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscars selfie featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Lupita Nyong’o and a host of other stars went alarmingly viral in 2014 and remains among the most retweeted posts ever. Unfortunately, among the smiling luminaries is one Kevin Spacey – a presence that has not aged well. An edit button might allow a quick re-upload of the photo, with the actor quietly replaced with a more beloved figure – maybe Anthony Fauci or the tiger from Encanto.
Ed Balls’ ‘Ed Balls’
And then there is the king of accidental tweets – that time in 2011 when Ed Balls, then the UK’s shadow chancellor, tweeted his own name in an effort to search for himself. To his credit, he hasn’t taken down the post, ensuring a legacy as a good sport and bad tweeter. An edit button could have recast the moment as Bob Dole-style bid for name recognition, using the third person to refer to himself: “Ed Balls listens to what the British people want.” Or he could have gone all in, writing Ed Balls 15 more times.
The Oscars slap
The slap heard round the world might have come as a surprise to you – but not to Jason. Jason, styled JASON, is a Twitter user and apparent prophet who tweeted in 2016 that Will Smith had “no choice” but to punch Chris Rock in the face. If this doesn’t impress you, imagine what Jason could do with an edit button. It’s Oscar night. You vaguely remember, six years ago, having seen someone tweet something about Smith and Rock. After 10 minutes of mad Googling, you land on Jason’s tweet. What once suggested Smith should punch Rock now says Smith will slap him. Maybe it even gives the date. Jason is immediately lauded as the next Nostradamus.
Funding not secured
Elon Musk must have wished for an edit button when US regulators sued him over a tweet saying he was “considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.” The SEC argued the tweet broke securities laws; funding was not, in fact, secured, but Tesla shares jumped. Ultimately, Musk and the agency settled the case and Musk stepped down as the electric vehicle company’s chair. The whole thing might have been avoided if Musk had just revised the tweet with a crying-laughing emoji, which is generally accepted in US courts as an indicator that a defendant was totally joking.
Owning the libs
When New York mayoral candidates were asked last year about what they’d ban if they could, their answers included food deserts and sugary drinks. The conservative commentator Ben Shapiro had a powerful rebuke: “Notably,” he tweeted, “nobody said crime.” Shapiro was apparently unaware that in most jurisdictions, crime is already illegal. An edit function would have allowed him to clarify that he meant true-crime showswhich he hates for their glorification of aggressive police tactics.
The foot pic
In a year of endless horror, the lauded writer Joyce Carol Oates sent a tweet that still managed to make waves: an image of her foot with a very, very disturbing rash. “Never/ever walk in the woods in sandals,” she warned. The tweet proves Twitter’s edit feature should also include a tool to blur images that don’t quite violate any platform policy but can never be unseen.
A kinder, gentler Netflix
We were so innocent back in 2017. Sure, we had Trump and Brexit, but the pandemic was years away, the US Capitol remained un-stormed, and no one thought twice about sharing their Netflix passwords. Even the streaming company itself endorses this behavior, writing in a tweet that “love is sharing a password”. A mere five years later, everything is horrible, including Netflix, which is investigating ways to charge people for sharing accounts. As soon as Twitter’s edit button appears, you can bet the company will prioritize its borderline socialist 2017 remark, changing it to something like “love is sharing a password exclusively with members of your own household, or we’re coming for you”.
Twitter’s own tweets
Maybe the real reason Twitter is launching an edit button is so it can edit its own mistakes. Last year, the company told those seeking the feature: “You can have an edit button when everyone wears a mask.” It’s unclear if this honorable sentiment was intended as a nudge toward good behavior or a comment akin to “when pigs fly”, but either way, the company has just disproved it.