Talking Points

The button Twitter actually needs

Twitter's about to get weird.

Billionaire industrialist-slash-space adventurer Elon Musk has purchased a big stake in the social media company and joined its board, and it seems assured that big changes (some possibly good, some possibly bad) are coming. Already, Musk has asked his Twitter followers if they want an edit button, a feature many typo-prone users have begged for over the years. More than 3 million people voted yes

Coincidentally-maybe-not-so-coincidentally, Twitter on Tuesday announced that hey, yeah, it actually is working on an edit button: 

Edit buttons might just be the beginning. Tech writers are speculating about all the possible ways the company might change with Musk throwing his weight around. Is Twitter about to become a major crypto platform? Will the service pull back on content moderation in the name of free speech? Like a lot of tech entrepreneurs, Musk is a "disruptor." With his ascendancy — and with company founder Jack Dorsey's decision to step down from the company late last year — it seems that anything is possible for Twitter right now.

So let's think big. My proposal: "Slow Twitter."

For many users — say, those of us who work in the media — Twitter is a useful tool for keeping up with events and distributing what we write to the wider world. But it can also be something of an addiction. Doomscrolling is part of the problem, but so is logorrhea: There is nothing that keeps us from sharing our every thought at every hour of the day, so we do. That's not always great. That makes it cost-free for right-wingers to hurl charges of "grooming" willy-nilly at their opponents, or for anyone to simply make a thoughtless and stupid joke that ends up haunting the writer forever.

Slow Twitter would give users the option of limiting themselves to three or four tweets per day, max. Not everybody would use it. But for those who did, such a tool would help them be a little more considerate about what they put out into the world. 

Twitter is unlikely to ever offer that kind of option because "engagement" is so meaningful to the company's business model: It needs and feeds our addiction. And Musk seems more interested in loosening the reins on what's allowed on Twitter than in constructing boundaries for his new sandbox. 

But how great would it be for our society and democracy if there was a little scarcity built into the system — if we had to ration our thoughts a little and share only the ones we thought were really worth sharing?  It would be like an edit button we could use before we tweeted! Musk is bringing some big changes to Twitter. Might as well make some of them useful.