Social media users have a new demand for 2017 – they want the ability to edit their public messages. Spelling mistakes, missing words and misplaced pronouns can have embarrassing, unintended and sometimes dangerous consequences.  The ability to edit one’s message is an attractive feature.  This request has led some users on the social media platform Twitter to ask its CEO when an edit function would be introduced.

Twitter is considering introducing an edit button, but the issue is much more complicated than one would think. Because Twitter is often seen as the public record, according to its own CEO, the implementation of an edit button would need to be carefully considered.

Type of editing is important

The type of editing could drastically change the functionality of an edit button:

  • Quick edits: If a user simply wanted to be able to correct spelling or grammatical mistakes, a time-limited edit functionality could be introduced. For example, a user could make any edit to a tweet within the first five minutes of making a post, before it can be viewed and/or commented upon by the public.
  • Anytime edits: If a user wanted to edit their tweets at any time, including editing the substance of a tweet, the issue is much more complicated. For example, this type of editing could allow users to deny having said certain things or could allow them to edit their tweets after other users have already retweeted, liked or quoted the original tweet.

Legal implications of an edit button

An edit button on social media platforms that allows users unlimited access to edit their public messages at any time raises certain legal issues. For example, consider the following two scenarios.

  • Defamation: Assume that User 1 posts a tweet about a well-known corporation. The original post is non-defamatory in nature. User 2 likes the tweet and retweets it. User 1 then uses an edit feature to edit the tweet and turn it into a defamatory statement. User 2 is now also possibly exposed to a defamation claim from the corporation.
  • Breach of privacy rights: Assume that User 1 posts a tweet about a person but does not disclose any sensitive information. User 2 retweets it. User 1 then uses an edit feature to add sensitive information about this person in breach of privacy laws. User 2 is now also possibly exposed to the same privacy laws for having disseminated the same sensitive information.

Possible solutions

Any social media website considering introducing an edit button should take into account the various issues posed by such a feature. Possible solutions include:

  • Time-limited edit function, i.e. only allowing users to edit their tweets within a short time frame before the public can comment, like and retweet.
  • Keeping a historical log of all edits so that each subsequent like, retweet or quote by a later user accurately reflects the version of the tweet it pertains to.
  • Employing a computer algorithm that could determine when the import of a tweet has been changed significantly.

As social media users continue to demand edit functionality, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook may have to adapt their platforms in a creative way that balances the interests of their users with the issues inherent in allowing them to edit their public messages.