It’s time to get serious about editing tweets

When your tweets need surgery.
Image: Lance ulanoff/mashable

And thus he spoke:

Covfefe.

Its an embarrassing Twitter mistake, especially for a sitting President. Donald Trumps solution, after waking up and discovering he left this bizarre remark in the ether, was, ultimately, to delete the tweet. I bet he wished, like many of us on Twitter, that he could simply edit Tweets.

I could point Trump to Facebook. Its not really his social medium platform of choice, but it does let you endlessly edit posts and doesnt really sweat the details too much. It notes that a post was edited, but thats it. In truth, Facebooks posts are generally not news makers (especially since most of them are private), sorry Mark Zuckerberg, and Im not sure anyone cares that much about an edited Facebook post.

But we obsess about it on Twitter.

This may be the one thing I and many other Twitter users, have in common with Donald Trump: the desire to edit tweets.

A few hours after Trumps mis-tweet and hoping to join on the Covfefe fun, I tweeted something smart, possibly even witty. Sadly, I didnt notice that I messed up Trump’s malapropism and briefly created one of my own.

Staring at the glaring error, I knew I had two, no, make that three choices: Ignore and keep moving along like theres nothing to see here, delete, or acknowledge. I chose making light of it and made it clear that I butchered the thing. Before deleting his post, Trump notably chose a similar path and, perhaps for the first time in recorded history, made fun of himself.

That was a bad Twitter day for me. I had, I think, two more stupid errors. Sometimes, though, the Tweet error is not really an error at all. Its a realization that I left something out: maybe I didnt tag someone, forgot to add an image card or missed a crucial hashtag. I just want to fix it.

When I rail at Twitter and its CEO Jack Dorsey for not enabling editable Tweets and Ive done this often other Twitter users rally to my side.

This is an obvious and simple change, we cry, why not make it now? Like right now.

But its not so simple. Is it?

Sure, most Tweets are disposable, but there are also millions that are worthy of preservation.

Twitter is a record of historical events. Sure, most Tweets are disposable, but there are also millions that are worthy of preservation. President Trump knows this better than most. Its illegal for him to delete tweets now, since they are part of his “Presidential Records, though he does so anyway.

By not offering us the ability to edit Tweets, Twitter is essentially encouraging us to delete the erroneous, inaccurate and embarrassing ones. What choice did Trump have, really? Its a wonder he hasnt deleted more of historical Tweets, many of which contradict his current positions.

However, I realize that this is just one of the many considerations Jack Dorsey wrestles with when considering this fundamental change.

Lets imagine that Jack simply flips the switch and enables Tweet editing for all users. Whats to stop Trump from crawling back through his Twitter history and editing all his Tweets into alignment with current policy positions?

Twitter, though, would never flip the switch on editable tweets like that. Without some crucial checks and balances already in place, editable Tweets would result in Twitter chaos.

I can, though, envision what I think they would look like.

Tweets already have a time (and place) stamp. Every edited Tweet would, similarly, have a little edit note on it, probably with the time and date of the edit. In theory, editable tweets could be edited multiple times. At the very least, Twitter would never introduce an edit function without an audit trail. (They wouldnt, would they?)

While this sounds like a rational solution, theres the question of how many edits and even to what degree. I think that if you allow editing, every single one of the 140 characters and associated images should be editable.

If thats the case, how many versions does Twitter allow? One? One hundred? Unlimited edits could be a heavy, heavy burden for Twitter. Remember how long it took for them to implement search? Im not sure Twitter could adequately scale such an editing solution for all Tweets.

In addition, Jack must decide if editing is a global change for every Tweet ever posted or only a going-forward one: From this day forward, you will be able to change your mind within a single Tweet.

That probably wont sit well with most Twitter users, but its the solution I prefer.

Then theres the question of how global do you make this change. Is editing for the Twitter masses or just verified accounts?

I might argue that Verified dont get to edit their Tweets without going through a two-step process: Request editing privileges and let a Twitter Editorial Board decide if an edit (maybe for a silly typo) is warranted.

Unverifieds could edit at will.

A Tweet is a statement. A concrete thing with import and value. That value does not increase after the first 60 seconds. Its constant.

Sadly, that solution has its flaws, as well. Just because youre not verified doesnt mean youre not tweeting something historic. Sohaib Athar, who tweeted about hearing the helicopters that happened to be on their way to kill Osama Bin Laden was not verified. No one wants him going back now and editing his tweet.

Im not sure the idea of still editable tweets for the first minute or so of their existence is much of a solution, either. Tweets travel at bullet-speed around the globe; a minute into its life-span and it could have been retweeted thousands of times. How would it look if, after that first minute, the next 5,000 retweets are sharing something different? A Tweet is a statement. A concrete thing with import and value. That value does not increase after the first 60 seconds. Its constant.

I hate Twitter mistakes (unless they’re happening to someone else) and desperately want editable tweets every time I make one, but my desire to save myself from embarrassment does not override the reality that this is a much more complex issue than it seems.

I dont think we should dismiss it. Instead, its time for a serious, open discussion and a timetable for final call on whether Twitters 328 million users should be able to edit Tweets. The balls in your court, Jack.

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