Sorry, Tweeters: This is Why You’ll Never Get Your Precious #EditButton

Esther Vargas/Flickr

Along with the thousands of people crying out for attention on Twitter (myself included), there is another cry that has been going on for a long time; an edit button.

The call for a Twitter edit button is basically as old as the service itself. Once in awhile, CEO Jack Dorsey will tease a potential edit feature. Recently, Dorsey was on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast talking about it and making excuses as to why Twitter doesn’t have something that would improve the service exponentially. His reasoning in that interview was that because Twitter was based on text messaging when it first came out, it should stay true to that origin and be uneditable.

Dubious reasoning, at best.

It’s easy to see why people want an edit button. Nothing ruins a funny, witty or even serious tweet more than seeing you’ve made a spelling or grammatical error. I remember writing a comment that I was particularly proud of on a site that, at the time, didn’t have editing capabilities and feeling that pride turn to horror when I went back to reread it (as you do with all your pithiest comments) and realizing I had used “there” instead of “their.”

Ugh. The shame.

As I’m sure we’ve all done, I’ve experienced a couple of tweet-and-deletes due to some kind of error. It’s basically a milestone that everyone has to go through, along with the sheepish *correction self-subtweet.

However, it’s also easy to understand why Twitter doesn’t want to give people a way to edit tweets. Someone who makes an awful statement and is called out on it could simply change the bad tweet. Or, someone could write an innocuous tweet that gets popular enough to be retweeted and embedded in a lot of places. The person could then change the initial tweet to something nasty, thus changing all the retweets and embeds to say the same nasty thing.

In his interview with Rogan, Dorsey mulled the idea of giving people a timeframe of five to 30 seconds to edit a tweet or the ability to edit a tweet while also having the original visible to inspect.

One theory floated a couple of years ago about why an edit button was not forthcoming at the time was that Twitter, ever since it went public in 2013 at a valuation of $25 billion, is under constant pressure from investors to grow its user base. Therefore, it now puts its energy into trying to attract new users rather than keeping its current users happy. Since editing ability would be an exercise in making current users happy rather than attracting new users, the theory goes, it isn’t a priority for the company.

It’s a valid theory, but I think there is another reason that Twitter doesn’t want to bother giving its users something they’ve been clamouring for; thousands of dollars of free promotion.

Twitter is celebrity driven. And celebrities on Twitter also drive the bulk of its promotion. From celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves on Jimmy Kimmel Live to feuding with each other for all to see, they amass the most followers and their tweets are the ones that end up being covered by media.

It may be hard to believe now because it’s the chosen social media platform of outspoken President of the United States Donald Trump, but mentions of Twitter were not always as ubiquitous as they are now. In the pre-Trump era, mentions of Twitter in the news were mostly confined to official tweets from authorities during a crisis and outrageous tweets by celebrities and corporations.

Celebrity Twitter fails and corporate Twitter fails are their own genres of online article at this point and they get Twitter a lot of exposure. Whenever a celeb or a company tweets something outrageous, weird or with an obvious spelling or grammar error in it, that tweet gets tons of exposure, also getting the social media platform tons of exposure.

Adding an edit button to the mix would take away the potential for that same level of what amounts to free advertising for Twitter. Celebrity or corporation tweets something outrageous or incorrect, people notice, the celeb or business then edits the tweet so it is less offensive or correct, no coverage.

Obviously, there is still the screenshot method of documenting poorly thought out tweets, but screenshots are usually brought out after the offending tweet has been deleted to prove its existence. I think screenshots would have less impact if the timestamp of the tweet in the screenshot and the actual tweet are the same, making for a less intriguing story than if the person or business completely deleted the offending tweet.

Whether it’s because they’re putting more effort into attracting more users to their 335 million monthly users or they don’t want to lose the potential for free promotion because of the various mess ups by celebrities and corporations, I don’t think you’ll be seeing an edit button for Twitter anytime soon. But, keep tweeting that hashtag, though.

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