‘Unsending’ and ‘untweeting’ – new opportunities or a can of worms?

Posted on February 7, 2019


In the age of word processing and digital media, we’re used to being able to go back and correct mistakes quickly and easily, but social media doesn’t always make it easy. However, the last few days have seen discussion of editing or retracting posts crop up on two popular social media platforms.

Could editing tweets be a step closer?

In an interview with Joe Rogan last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey discussed the hot topic of being able to edit tweets. This is something that’s been a vexation for many Twitter users for as long as the site has been around, but it does seem that Dorsey is now seriously looking at a solution.


The big problem for Twitter is its instantaneous nature. As Dorsey explains, there are times when putting a tweet out quickly and in the moment is important, such as when covering sports. In other cases, clarity is more important, and there are times when giving people the opportunity to tidy up their messages after sending them might be useful, provided users can clearly see that they’ve been edited.

A previous concern that has been brought up is that if tweets are edited, any articles that embed them might cease to make sense. A classic example is the ‘Ed Balls’ tweet – if Balls had corrected or altered his tweet, any articles embedding his original mistake would seem confusing.

Dorsey also reminds us that Twitter’s roots are in SMS messaging, although it could be argued that in 2019, this is a fairly redundant point and is no reason for Twitter not to move on, especially since it’s now over six years since chat apps overtook SMS in popularity.

Messenger introduces ‘unsend’ feature

In a similar effort to combat those ‘whoops!’ moments on social media, Facebook’s chat app Messenger is now allowing Android users to ‘unsend’ messages.

This doesn’t mean you can go back and delete messages from years ago though, as users have just a 10-minute window to wipe their text blunders. It’s also not possible to get rid of any replies from the recipient, which might give away what you mistakenly said anyway.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg reportedly used a similar function to this himself last year to remove messages from recipients’ inboxes, proving that if you create a social media site yourself, you can pretty much do what you want.

Does this create more problems than it’s worth?

I can’t help wondering if we just need to train ourselves to be a bit more careful. After all, with even relatively recent media like email and SMS, if you make a mistake, you just have to accept it or follow it up with a clarification. Some email facilities do allow you to retract an email, but this can only be done if the recipient hasn’t already read it, and just tends to arouse suspicion. Unless you’ve had an absolute nightmare moment, it’s best avoided.

And what about the post? If you say something stupid in a letter, once you’ve put it in the post box, you’re done for, as Homer Simpson once found out.


This makes me think that edit and ‘unsend’ functions might be welcomed for the odd slip up, but perhaps we should take responsibility for our own mistakes rather than try to pretend they didn’t happen.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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