Here’s How the Twitter Edit Button Can Actually Work

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June 2021 Twitter told the world, “You don’t need an edit button, you just need to forgive yourself.” Twitter founder Jack Dorsey even strongly opposed Requests Kim Kardashian when she cornered him at Kanye West’s 2018 birthday party. For years, the platform has resisted editing tweets. Until now. An edit button is unavoidable, but tricky questions remain about how it can be implemented without causing chaos.

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“Everyone thinks it’s easy to just add an edit button,” says Christine Wodtke, professor of computer science at Stanford University. Vodtke, who has worked on product design projects at LinkedIn, MySpace, Zynga and Yahoo, argues that such a seemingly simple change will require careful thought. She puts forward a hypothetical situation: Donald Trump, whose return to Twitter may be more likely because Elon Musk’s entry into the board of Twitter— writes something shocking or offensive. He subsequently edits his post to smooth out the rough edges. But people have already reacted to the content of the original tweet, which makes their reaction meaningless.

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The obvious solution to this is a Slack or Facebook style change log where people can view the change history of a post. Facebook has been allowing people to edit posts since June 2012, but the feature has been regularly used by scammers since its inception. Alex Stamos, former head of security at Facebook and now an associate professor at Stanford University, marked that Facebook’s post-editing tools helped legitimize a scam cryptocurrency page to scam users. Page editing is the main function of Wikipedia, but this leads to “edit wars” where people argue about the wording of an article, including 11 year battle about the origin of Caesar salad. For Twitter bios, there are similar third party tools such as Spoonbillwhich can track changes in a person’s profile over time.

However, such tracking comes with its own challenges, Wodtke says. First, the user who edited the post probably doesn’t want the original text to be available. “All of this complexity has to do with how all the players in the system will react to this change,” she says. “You have to think through all these norms that you are now breaking and changing.” Simply put, you need to design any new feature of this kind with a worst-case scenario in mind. Even if most people use the edit button to fix typos, if a small minority use it for nefarious purposes, it can cause havoc. “The biggest fear is that this will lead to more confusion and fatigue on Twitter,” she says.

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In an attempt to address this issue, Twitter will begin testing the editing feature among users of Twitter Blue, a paid subscription service, in the coming months. Tweet editing has been the most requested feature on Twitter “for years”. Jay Sullivan stated, head of the consumer products platform. Twitter also revealed that the feature has been under development since 2021, debunking any claims that poll Musk asked users if they needed an edit button.

The announcement of the edit button was welcomed by many but raised concerns by others. Sullivan acknowledges that “time limits, control and transparency about what has been edited” may be required to ensure fair use of the editing feature. So how do you code honesty? Simply put, how Twitter designs, tests, and implements the editing feature will determine its success—and can make or break the platform. “Are there any risks?” asks Christopher Busey, founder of Bot Sentinel, a service that tracks bad behavior on Twitter. “Absolutely. It could change the context of the tweet.” Misinformation and misinformation – the former deliberately shares incorrect information, the latter accidentally – there is not much on Twitter, and the platform’s viral dynamics mean that some authors are reluctant to correct misinformation. One Academic paper 2018 found that fake news travels six times faster on Twitter than the truth, in large part because lies are 70% more likely to be retweeted than fact-based posts.

However, not all users are driven by the dopamine surge of engagement, and some, such as Evgeny Golovchenko, who studies disinformation at the University of Copenhagen, believe that the edit button has good potential. “The big question is whether this will reduce the amount of disinformation,” he says. He’s not sure about the answer, but suggests that editing might give people a low-stakes opportunity to save face when faced with the fact that they’re wrong. Busi believes that Twitter should implement the editing feature in a way that discourages or restricts a large number of edited tweets. Changing the spelling of “live” to “love” when you tweet “I love Taylor Swift” would be acceptable; You can’t completely change the context of a post.

“It all comes down to how they are going to implement it,” says Golovchenko, suggesting that contextual AI systems will be able to understand the context of a tweet and intervene if it changes too much. Golovchenko adds that if it were up to him, Twitter would never have received the edit button. It equates Twitter to emails that cannot be edited once sent, but can be “unsubscribed” using the subscription functions in clients like Gmail. Similar undo function already available for paid Twitter Blue members. So, rather than launching a full-featured edit button, Twitter might consider limiting the amount of time a user has to edit a tweet after hitting the submit button. This would help to get rid of typos and would also discourage nefarious behavior.

Many researchers who specialize in disinformation share the fear that the editing function could be exploited by unscrupulous actors. “I’m leaning toward ‘it seems like a bad idea now,’ at least on the surface,” says Sarita Schönebeck, director of the Living Online Lab at the University of Michigan, which studies human-computer interaction. interactions, and is currently on sabbatical as a paid consultant on the Birdwatch community fact-checking group on Twitter.

But it’s not just the potential for abuse that makes the editing feature questionable. Schönebeck is also concerned that this will cause confusion among conscientious users. “I don’t think it would have clarified the trajectory of the tweet from an interface design standpoint,” she says. Basically, if it’s poorly implemented, it’s going to be hard to tell if a tweet was edited before or after it went viral. Schönebeck suggests that implementing this feature could be a nightmare for archivists, a critical issue as Twitter has become a place where first draft of history written.

And rewriting this story makes Schönebeck think. “Instead of a simple edit button for a tweet, they could think more about which tweets should be public and which should have more archive tags,” she says. In her opinion, instead of editing content, Twitter could offer people a compromise between leaving the tweet public and deleting it. “It may not be amplified or pushed into the news feed,” she says. “It’s still there and can still be found, but someone points out, ‘I don’t support it anymore, or I’m dropping it, or I’m sorry about it.’ This seems like a more convenient and practical way to avoid some of the problems. what the proposed edit button will call.

We hope such concerns are the reason for the limited trial version of the Twitter edit button feature and may mean that any final version will have very limited functionality. “Twitter is essentially a sociotechnical system,” Wodtke says, meaning that any technological changes to Twitter’s software or features will have indirect repercussions on how people interact with it and with each other. It also likely explains to a large extent why Twitter hasn’t experimented with this feature for so long and will hopefully proceed with caution in the coming weeks and months. “It’s hard to gain strength to deal with such complexity,” says Wodtke.


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