Twitter will, in the not too distant future, allow you to edit Tweets. This news, which came a few days ago, was pretty big, but more like the shocking aftertaste you get from hard candy with a sour middle – that’s because we’re still digesting the news about Elon Musk buying 10% interest in the company and soon joins Twitter’s board.
It was a lot to take in.
Understand that I have been using the social network for 15 years. It’s only been around for 16 years. Through all the changes, including launching a mobile app, introducing images, retweets, mentions and feeds, doubling the length of tweets and launching a subscription service, there has never been a week like this.
Twitter has been something of a de facto record of the early 21st century, with billions of posts, capturing small events and big moments, traveling around the world faster than a SpaceX rocket can escape Earth’s gravity.
The only way to modify this record was to delete it; or rather delete tweets. If you think of Twitter as a personal publishing system (we used to call it a microblogging platform), that makes sense. Websites have always given us the ability to add, edit and remove content. Media sites routinely remove large amounts of material, primarily to address search engine optimization issues.
On Twitter, however, most of us never delete our tweets. I do this when there’s a glaring and embarrassing mistake – a wrong or broken link, or a massive typo. Even then, there are times when I lose control of the tweet — it goes a bit viral — and deleting it might upset hundreds or thousands of people who liked or shared it.
So I leave it, and dream, again, of the edit button.
I should be happy for Twitter and myself.
He just got a huge cash injection and a vote of confidence from a new co-owner (and the stock market, who loved the news), and I have confirmation that after years of pleading I will. in the not too distant future, to be able to edit my Tweets.
So why am I so anxious?
First, there is the Elon Musk factor.
I’ve been an avid Musk watcher for years. I interviewed him for the first time in 2012 (opens in a new tab) and eventually created a short-lived daily podcast to watch Musk called 33 Million Miles to Mars (opens in a new tab). I get the guy, and I think nothing captures his genius and surprisingly emotional personality better than this 2017 Rolling Stone profile. (opens in a new tab).
It’s also quite easy to see Musk’s personality on Twitter (opens in a new tab), a platform he loves and hates in equal measure. He’s been at it for years and often uses it as his visible identity (and ego), indulging in silliness, aggression, sting and insight. I had some really interesting conversations on Twitter with him about Tesla’s technology (opens in a new tab).
Musk cares about Twitter, but he also seems inclined to burn it down; it’s clear that he has no intention of being a silent partner. Former Twitter CEO and co-founder Jack Dorsey admitted as much when he called current Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal and Musk. “a team.”
Seen as an agent of change, Musk’s arrival on the Twitter forum could be greeted with enthusiasm. What will it inspire? What will he demand? What could he carelessly share about Twitter’s future plans on Twitter?
Adding Musk to the board isn’t like bringing someone else. He is one of the most recognizable people in the world and a polarizing figure. For every fan of his EV and space triumphs, there are people who believe him a dangerous, self-aggrandizing showboat. My take is that Musk is a real genius (he taught rocket science himself) with an underdeveloped emotional core.
Shortly after announcing his stock purchase, and true to form, Musk took to Twitter and conducted a poll to find out if Twitter should introduce editable Tweets. More than four million people voted, 73% of whom said yes (or “yes” as his tweet comically puts it).
Knowing Musk like me, I was still processing his big move when Twitter shocked me and his more than 300 million other dedicated Twitter users with news that he is currently working on editable tweets. The company insisted it had been working on the feature for months before Musk joined the board.
Instead of being thrilled, however, I felt a new wave of anxiety. Saying “editable tweets” is one thing – implementing the feature in a way that doesn’t destabilize Twitter to the point of being useless is quite another.
I immediately wondered if I would use it to go back and fix stupid mistakes, or a structural issue on my most viral tweet (opens in a new tab). I’m not rushing to do this, because the more I think about editing tweets, the more I realize it’s not about rewriting history (I pray it’s not); it is about correcting the errors of the moment. Stupid things like typos, and bigger things like where you tweet angry one minute, and realize five minutes later that you can tone it down and not incite a Twitter riot.
My worry meter went down a bit after Jay Sullivan, Twitter’s head of consumer products, offered some additional details (opens in a new tab) on how Twitter might approach the biggest change to its platform in a decade.
He noted that Twitter knows people want to correct “(sometimes embarrassing) mistakes, typos, and hot takes in the moment,” but more crucially added“Without elements such as time limits, controls, and transparency over what has been edited, Edit could be misused to alter the record of the Public Conversation. Protecting the integrity of this Public Conversation is our top priority when we approach this work.”
Personally, I hope this means that I can’t go back five years and edit my viral tweet, that we will have edit histories, and that historically significant Tweets cannot be edited at any time. This last point is a bigger question, I know, and may relate to who is tweeting. Public figures may get stuck with political tweets and only be able to access the editable tweet feature within the first 10 minutes after posting. Unverified, non-public figures may be given more time.
That would be reasonable, but even as I write this, I feel Musk’s gaze. He has thoughts on this I’m sure and could push for more extensive and freer editable tweet settings, especially some that might help him go back and change anything and everything what in his Twitter timeline.
Yet Musk is also a shrewd businessman and could not have built and maintained several businesses, particularly the successful Tesla and SpaceX, without exercising some restraint. I have to believe that Musk will exercise restraint here; if not… well, I’ll just leave a recent tweet from Musk here.