Why Twitter’s Undo Button Might Be as Good as It Gets

Close enough?

Key Takeaways

  • Twitter is reportedly testing an undo button.
  • The undo button would allow users to unsend a tweet within a certain time limit after they send it.
  • While many still want an edit button, experts feel that the undo button could be a good compromise for all users.
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Experts say Twitter’s undo button could be a good compromise between functionality and protection from the spread of disinformation.

Twitter users have been begging for an edit button for a while now. Every new feature that the social media giant releases brings a slew of new tweets about how the company isn’t listening to its community.

While an edit button sounds like a good idea on paper, experts caution that giving users a way to change content after it has been live for a while could come with bigger implications. As such, the undo button that Twitter reportedly is testing right now could be a good middle ground for those who want an edit button, and those who don’t.

"Recent suggestions regarding how to curtail abuse and harassment on social media networks—namely banning anonymous accounts on the platform—ignore the brute fact that when individuals come to the internet, they expect to see bad language, insults, and threats, which they do—and often act accordingly," Aaron Drapkin, a social media privacy expert at ProPrivacy, told Lifewire via email. 

"What is good about an undo button is that it actually seems like an attempt to insert a precondition for civil discussion: reflecting on the impact of your actions."

The Problem With Edit Buttons

While an edit button is high on the list of the Twitter community’s wants, there are reasons for why Twitter might be skirting around the idea—instead focusing on the current undo button that the company is testing. 

"It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see an ‘edit’ button in the future, given the fast-paced nature of Twitter," Amber Reed-Johnson, a content market assistant at Giraffe Social Media Management, told us in an email.

"More importantly, [there are] the potential complications with retweets/quote tweets an ‘edit’ option may cause."

Retweets and quote tweets—both of which are primary ways of sharing content across Twitter—send other’s tweets out to your followers.

With an edit button, some, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, are worried that users could edit their content after it has been shared, thereby changing any narratives that users might be retweeting.

One user wrote in a tweet, "It’s simple. You’ll like and retweet this post, I’ll change it completely. Of course, they could add the ability and if a tweet is edited, they could undo all like/retweets."

Sure, Twitter could add a function similar to Facebook's, which clearly notes when something has been edited, but it still might lead to problems.

With retweets and quotes playing such a large part in how content is shared on Twitter, there would need to be very specific rules and mechanics in place, like the ones mentioned by the user above. This just adds more complexity to the issue, which is likely something Twitter is looking to avoid.

Finding a Compromise

Disinformation is still a vital threat to our digital lives and it continues to live on across various social media sites, including Twitter. With an edit button, experts like Drapkin feel there is too much potential for abuse.

Drapkin, in fact, sees an edit button as a tool that could make moderation of the platform more difficult. 

Yes, users could use it to fix grammar mistakes and spelling errors, or even to tone down an angry tweet. But it also could be used for much more sinister purposes—like spreading false information on a tweet that already has been extensively shared across Twitter.

What is good about an undo button is that it actually seems like an attempt to insert a precondition for civil discussion: reflecting on the impact of your actions.

"I'm not sure how conducive to civil online discourse an edit button would be—the notion it could be used to spread disinformation, rather than correct spelling, grammar, or even make tweets 'nicer' is plausible to say the least, unless there was some way to access the tweet's edit history, although this may be functionally self-defeating," Drapkin wrote in our email.

"If anything, I think it would put less onus on people to 'think before they tweet' if they could perpetually edit the comments they make on the platform, whereas an undo button would at least allude to permanency. Will it lead to users who impulsively tweet hatred impulsively taking it down again?"

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