Twitter revealed on Tuesday that it is working on a way for users to edit their 280-character messages, although it says the project has nothing to do with the fact that edit-function supporter Elon Musk was just revealed as the company's largest shareholder and now sits on its board.
Twitter said it will test the feature in its paid service, Twitter Blue, in the coming months. It said the test would help it "learn what works, what doesn’t, and what’s possible".
So, it may be a while before most Twitter users get to use it, if they ever do.
Company spokesperson Catherine Hill declined to say whether an edit feature might be rolled out for all users.
Many Twitter users have long begged for an edit button. The company itself recently teased users with an April Fool’s Day tweet saying "we are working on an edit button".
The official Twitter account confirmed on Tuesday that the April 1 tweet was not a joke and that it has been working on the feature since last year.
Twitter also said it didn’t get the idea from a Twitter poll launched by Tesla CEO Musk on Monday. Musk, himself a Twitter power user, asked followers if they wanted an edit button, in the process misspelling "yes" as "yse" and "no" as "on".
Musk also tweeted that he is looking forward to making "significant improvements to Twitter in coming months!"
Twitter’s vice president of consumer product, Jay Sullivan, tweeted Tuesday that an edit function has for years been Twitter's most requested new feature, noting that people want to fix mistakes, typos, and "hot takes."
Changing the record
But that ability to retrospectively change statements, takes and comments could make Twitter less valuable as a record of official statements by politicians and other high-profile people, experts who study the service said.
Twitter, for better or worse, "has become the de facto news wire" said Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor and an expert on social media who researches propaganda.
Tweets are often embedded in news stories, which could cause problems if the users edit important or controversial tweets without leaving evidence of the original statement. Grygiel suggested instead giving Twitter users a window of time to edit their tweets before they publish them.
Letting powerful Twitter users edit their tweets means they would not be historical statements anymore, Grygiel said. "We need to think about what the implications are, what these tweets are, who has power".
The company acknowledged those concerns on Tuesday when Sullivan tweeted: "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. Protecting the integrity of that public conversation is our top priority when we approach this work".
Musk, too, has said that a proposal for a post-publication edit window of a few minutes "sounds reasonable".