“Tweets, but editable.”
It’s what’s become the standard response among Twitter users who spot a typo in a popular tweet. The edit button has been Twitter’s most requested feature for so long that it’s become a meme. Kim Kardashian cornered then Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at a party about it.
But it wasn’t just an April Fools’ prank, or an errant Elon Musk tweet: days after Twitter’s elusive post at the onset of April – “We are working on an edit button” – Twitter confirmed the mythical edit button is now becoming a reality.
The idea is that Twitter users will be able to fix any typos or errors in a tweet after posting it, without sacrificing any replies, retweets, or likes the post has already accrued.
But it’s more than an exciting new way to dodge embarrassing typos. As any true blue Twitter user knows, Twitter has seen years of a profound ideological divide over whether such a feature should exist on the platform.
An edit button wouldn’t be without the loom of politicians, corporate executives and other high-profile people editing their tweets to change not just a typo, but the original message. It’s a nightmarish reality for archivists and journalists trying to report on the original story – not to mention hold powerful public figures accountable in the process.
An edit button now imminent, several solutions are being posed to help mitigate concerns of honesty and transparency on the social media platform: time controls and website change monitoring tools, like Visualping, to monitor and keep track of the trajectory of modified tweets over time.
Many are tired of noticing a small spelling error or broken link muddle with their otherwise flawless tweet, already posted and garnering likes and comments. Twitter users want to correct small mistakes without taking the current approach: deleting it and posting again a clean copy.
Jay Sullivan, Twitter’s VP of consumer product, says “People want to be able to fix (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes, typos and hot takes in the moment,” and that the edit button is a feature that will give users “more choice and control” on the platform.
But, while being able to fix typos and broken links is appealing, Dorsey, Twitter’s then CEO, expressed concern in a 2018 interview that an edit button could let users change a tweet’s meaning after it gets widely shared.
Many users are concerned they may like or publicly endorse a post, only later to find its meaning completely repurposed. This is especially concerning in an era where people get fired for publicly endorsing controversial and offensive posts on social media.
Dorsey has also noted adding an edit button would contradict Twitter’s original design. “We started as an SMS, text message service. And, as you all know, when you send a text, you can’t really take it back,” he said. “We wanted to preserve that vibe, that feeling, in the early days.”
“We’ll probably never do it,” Dorsey said in a 2020 interview with Wired. He stepped down nearly a year later.
An edit button could change the nature of Twitter, compromising its unique value as a historical repository of politicians' statements. Twitter has become the social media platform for official historical statements made by politicians and corporate executives alike. But, once users start editing their tweets after the fact, can they still be considered historical statements?
“We need to think about what the implications are, what these tweets are, who has power,” says Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor and a social media expert, as first reported by Time Magazine.
Facebook, Medium and Instagram are among some of the many social media platforms that already allow users to edit their posts. But the abuse is not unheard of: according to Meta’s former chief security officer, Alex Stamos, scammers have been taking liberties with Facebook’s editing feature since its 2012 rollout. In one case, it helped legitimize a cryptocurrency scam.
While editing pages is a core feature of Wikipedia, it’s also led to “edit wars” where individuals spread misinformation and argue about the wording of an entry. Think of an 11-year battle over the origins of the Caesar salad.
Twitter, for better or worse, “has become the de facto news wire,” said Grygiel. Posts and public exchanges on Twitter often provide the foundation for major news stories. With the edit button, it may become difficult for journalists to be able to decipher and report on the trajectory of an edited tweet over time.
Links to tweets are also sometimes even embedded in news stories, which could cause problems if the users edit important or controversial tweets without leaving evidence of the original statement.
An obvious solution is for Twitter to implement time limits and controls, to ensure an edit button wouldn’t alter the record of the public conversation. Rather than launching a full-on edit button, Twitter could limit the amount of time a user has to edit a tweet after hitting send. That would help get rid of typos, while also protecting against nefarious behavior.
“Without things like time limits, controls, and transparency about what has been edited, [an edit button] could be misused to alter the record of the public conversation,” Sullivan, Twitter’s VP of consumer product, has said. “Protecting the integrity of that public conversation is our top priority when we approach this work.”
But, regardless of how Twitter ultimately chooses to implement the new feature, website change monitoring tools are another solution for those looking to maintain their access to the original unedited Tweet, and to track the trajectory of an edited tweet over time.
Website change monitoring tools automatically track web pages and take screenshots at preset intervals. When a change is detected, the user gets notified through an email or text alert. Users can use tools like these to view the history of changes on a post, and collect screenshots of the trajectory of edits over time – what has changed, been removed and added.
With an edit button and tools like Visualping abundantly available online, Twitter could see an entirely new genre of news story, where the focus of the reporting shifts to emphasize how a high-profile person’s thinking evolved over time – what they originally posted, how it was then edited, and then how it was edited again.
With Visualping, for example, when it detects a page change, users receive an alert, via email, of a screenshot with all the highlighted changes. Parts of the tweet that were removed are crossed out and highlighted in red, and text added to the tweet is highlighted in green. The simple service has over 2 million users worldwide.
Visualping alerts also include a link to the monitored page, so users can quickly navigate to the tweet of interest within the Twitter platform.
Users can opt for higher frequency monitoring through several affordable freemium subscription options – a popular option amongst journalists aiming to catch the latest tweets as soon as they’re up.
To get setup with Visualping, users can simply navigate to its homepage and copy and paste the URL of the page they want to track into the search bar. After customizing how often they want Visualping to check the Twitter profile, they then set the email address they want the alerts to be sent to.
When changes occur, users receive a real-time email alert with a screenshot of the changes.
Despite concerns an edit button rallies with honesty and transparency, the feature is inevitable. Regardless how Twitter navigates the rollout, Twitter users can turn to website change monitoring tools to automatically take screenshots of the original Tweet before it’s edited, and to keep an eye on the trajectory of a tweet over time.