Why aren’t we allowed to edit tweets?

Posted on July 25, 2018


It’s been a bane to social media users, marketers and certain politicians for years – you put together a tweet you think is bang on the money, but only after hitting the ‘Tweet’ button do you notice an apostrophe out of place, or an ‘is’ instead of an ‘in’.

If this happens on Facebook, you can edit your post to say what you meant it to say. The edit history remains viewable, so if you’re a high-profile user, anyone who has the time on their hands can still locate your original gaffe. Generally though, editing a Facebook post is pretty easy and harmless.

With Twitter, your tweet can’t be changed from the way you sent it out. If you notice an error, or just a better way to phrase what you’re saying, you have to either grit your teeth and ignore it, or delete your tweet and type it out all over again. The latter option is particularly galling if you get an immediate like or retweet.

So, why does Twitter have such a problem with allowing you to change your words?

Speaking in 2015, Twitter head of product Kevin Weil explained that introducing a facility for tweets to be edited is something that could be done very easily. The bigger problem, however, is with the ramifications of people changing what they have said after they have tweeted it. Since Twitter users like, comment and retweet other people’s tweets, it may cause contextual issues if the original tweet were to be edited.

What makes this problem even more significant is the fact that journalists often embed tweets in their articles, and if these were to be edited, they might start to look hopelessly out of place. Let’s take this classic tweet from May 28th, 2011 by the then Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls:

Balls has spent much of the last seven years being teased for accidentally tweeting his own name when he meant to search for it, but what if Twitter introduced an edit function now and Balls decided to pretend that incident never happened? Instead, he changed it to something like “Greetings on this glorious spring morning. Hope everyone has a wonderful Saturday!” Suddenly, not only does the tweet on his Twitter feed change, but it also changes in every retweet it got, as well as in articles that used it, including this one. This means that any article that alluded to Balls tweeting his own name, and that embedded the tweet to prove it, now contains a seemingly irrelevant Saturday morning greeting tweet.

If you have a habit of tweeting before proofreading, there is an app that might be able to help you. Named Covfefe after Donald Trump’s infamous garbled tweet last year, the app gives you a 15-second window to review what you’ve written after you hit ‘Tweet’. The emphasis is still on your own error-spotting skills though, so the solution remains to be extremely careful about your choice of Twitter words.

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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