Elon Musk and Twitter’s edit feature experiment

Social media giant admits idea is in the works – and claims it did not come from Tesla billionaire

Elon Musk at the opening of a new Tesla plant in Gruenheide, Germany
Elon Musk at the opening of a new Tesla plant in Gruenheide, Germany
(Image credit: Christian Marquardt/Pool/Getty Images)

Twitter has announced that it is working on an edit button, but denied that the idea came from the company’s new largest stakeholder Elon Musk.

The social media giant last night tweeted “we’ve been working on an edit feature since last year”, adding “we didn’t get the idea from a poll” alongside a winking emoji.

The news that the company is working on the new feature immediately gave rise to rumours that it was Musk’s idea. The Tesla billionaire ran a Twitter poll on the question yesterday, shortly after the announcement that he was joining Twitter’s board.

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‘Kicking off testing’

An edit function has long been “a sought-after feature on the site to correct typos or embarrassing mistakes”, The Guardian reported. Currently users are forced to “work around it by deleting and reposting the tweet”.

Twitter said that it is “kicking off testing” with a selection of people signed up for the company’s subscription product – Twitter Blue – in the coming months.

Jay Sullivan, head of consumer product at the social media giant, tweeted: “Edit has been the most requested Twitter feature for many years. People want to be able to fix (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes, typos and hot takes in the moment.

“Without things like time limits, controls, and transparency about what has been edited, Edit could be misused to alter the record of the public conversation,” he said. “Protecting the integrity of that public conversation is our top priority when we approach this work.”

Sullivan’s intervention speaks to longstanding concerns about “how to execute” an edit feature on the site where tweets often go viral with hundreds of thousands of retweets, the BBC said. It is expected that the feature will allow users to amend or change tweets “without losing any replies, retweets or likes it has already gained”.

Former CEO Jack Dorsey has been “​​reluctant to add such a feature in the past”, The Verge reported, citing the concern that it “could let users change a tweet’s meaning after it gets widely shared”. In 2020, he said during a Wired question-and-answer video that the company would “probably never” add the feature.

The company was keen to state that it was working on the plan before Musk joined the board, BBC North America technology reporter James Clayton said. “But it does certainly look like the Tesla boss has moved the process along.”

The Musk effect

Twitter announced yesterday that Musk was joining its board, a day after the world’s richest person became its largest shareholder, taking a 9.2% stake for $2.9bn (£2.2bn). Twitter chief executive Parag Agrawal had urged users to “vote carefully” in a poll set up by the Tesla magnate asking whether users would like an edit feature.

“Twitter polls are notoriously unscientific”, said the BBC’s Clayton, “yet Musk appears to make real-life decisions based on their results.” His survey found that 73.6% of those who responded were in favour of adding an edit option.

The social media network has “shown a somewhat novel willingness to shape the platform based on user feedback”, TechCrunch said, “so it will be interesting to see what happens as the test begins”.

“Some Twitter power users have clamoured for an edit tweet button for years”, the site added, “while others have serious misgivings about making misinformation and harassment even harder to manage on a social network still rife with serious problems”.

Regardless of whether the feature gets a worldwide rollout, Musk’s investment in Twitter has vaulted “him into an influential position at one of the world’s most widely viewed news sources”, the Financial Times reported.

“Tech billionaires have used their wealth before to make a mark in the news business”, the paper said, with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos purchasing The Washington Post and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff buying Time magazine in 2018.

But “nobody does it quite like Elon Musk”, the paper said. He “has always made a virtue of being a highly disruptive presence at any company he is involved in” and “comes with a set of strongly held, technocratic views that has brought him many critics”.

Taking up a starring role on Twitter’s board means Musk has “gained an influential voice at a platform that has helped define his disruptive brand”.

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