Why an edit button for Twitter isn’t as easy as it seems – Technology News, Firstpost



Adelaide: Most people who use Twitter have had the experience: You start a quick tweet, realize there’s a typo, and get annoyed that you can’t click Edit to correct it. Twitter users have been clamoring for an edit button for years.

Elon Musk, who recently bought shares in the microblogging platform and made a $48 billion bid for the entire company, asked his 82 million followers if they wanted an edit button. His (very unscientific) poll drew 4.4 million responses, 73% of them in favour.

On other social media platforms, you can edit posts after you’ve sent them. Looks like it would be an easy feature to add, so why isn’t Twitter doing it?

Well, maybe it’s finally here. Independent of Musk’s poll, Twitter has confirmed that an edit button may be in the works. Enterprising users have even dug up some hints of what it might look like.

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So what’s the fuss about?

Why is Twitter so opposed to an edit button? The answer could be that it is not as simple as it seems.

The first thing to know about tweets is that unlike posts on many other platforms, there is basically no way for Twitter to pull them back after they’ve been sent. The reason is that Twitter has a so-called Application Programming Interface (or API) that allows third parties, such as other apps or researchers, to download tweets in real time.

That’s the power of Twitter clients such as TweetDeck, TweetBot, Twitteriffic and Echofon, which together account for some 6 million users.

Once third parties have downloaded tweets, there is no way for Twitter to get them back or edit them. It’s kind of like an email once I’ve sent it and you’ve downloaded it, there’s no way I can delete it from your computer.

If a user were to edit a tweet, Twitter’s best option would be to send a message telling you to edit that tweet, but the third party can choose whether to actually do it or not. (This is currently what happens when tweets are deleted.)

Cats and dogs

More importantly, an edit button can have unintended consequences and can be weaponized.

Consider this. Me, a cat lover, decides to tweet I love cats!

Then you, who are also a cat lover (because why wouldn’t you), decide to quote my tweet, agreeing that I do too! (Remember when Twitter was so innocent?)

What happens if I edit my original tweet to state that I love dogs? You are now being misrepresented as a dog lover, and when your cat-loving friends see this (which they will if I reply to your tweet and name them all), they disown you.

Yes, this is contrived, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see how the edit button can be used this way, especially by things like bot armies. Will Twitter users be happy to trade this ability for the convenience of correcting typos in their tweets?

Warts and all’: a bug or a feature?

Twitter has built its reputation as the most real-time of the social media platforms, the place where earthquakes are reported faster than scientific instruments. However, for many people, the warts and all nature of Twitter posts are starting to look like a bug rather than a feature.

Will an edit button change Twitter’s unique brand? There may be ways to improve on this, such as only allowing edits within a short amount of time after posting, but it’s definitely a consideration for the company.

More generally, the design of media platforms determines the type of discussion that takes place about them.

The presence of the like and retweet buttons on Twitter encourages users to create content that will entice others to click these buttons, and to further distribute their content. This in turn determines the nature of the conversation that takes place on the platform.

Likewise, websites use algorithms and designs to push users in certain directions, such as buying a product.

There has been a lot of research on how discourse is shaped by the design of social media platforms, showing that every fee a user gets affects the conversation that ultimately takes place.

This means that, in addition to fundamental technological challenges, Twitter needs to think about the potential unintended consequences of seemingly simple changes, even down to the level of a simple edit button. The medium shapes the message and Twitter needs to think carefully about what kind of messages they want their platform to shape. (The conversation)

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