Elon Musk, new Twitter board member, teases edit button – but it's a complicated change
An edit button is a winner among Twitter users, but more complicated than changing up the UI.
Update: Elon Musk will officially be appointed to the Twitter board of directors, it was announced today, one day after his 9.2% stake in Twitter was revealed and just hours after he teased a Twitter edit button. Later in this updated story, I explain why the edit button idea is actually a more complicated change than people think.
Elon Musk, on his way to becoming a Twitter board member, has teased a Twitter edit button, which is hands-down the most requested feature among the users of the microblogging social media platform. It’s significant this time around because he made the tease the same day he became Twitter’s largest shareholder, but it remains a very complicated change for Twitter to make.
Musk, the SpaceX founder and Tesla CEO, launched a Twitter poll last night, asking his more than 80 million followers “Do you want an edit button?” The two options are misspelled versions of “yes” and “no.” The Twitter poll is set to expire tonight and, no surprise, ‘yse’ is winning the poll right now.
With a 9.2% passive stake in Twitter, Musk paid about $2.89 billion based on Friday’s closing price, according to CNBC, and after the filing was revealed yesterday, the Twitter stock price surged early and closed up 27% by the end of yesterday.
Musk to join Twitter board, teases ‘improvements’
Tuesday morning, just over 24 hours after Musk’s 9.2% Twitter stake was revealed, an SEC filing, first spotted by financial news sites like CNBC, revealed what everyone had expected: Elon Musk will be a part of Twitter’s board of directors. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal welcomed the news in a tweet: “Through conversations with Elon in recent weeks, it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our Board.”
Musk responded to Agrawal, tweeting a reply: “Looking forward to working with Parag & Twitter board to make significant improvements to Twitter in coming months!”
Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey also had hopeful words for Musk’s board member appointment in a separate tweet quote of Agrawal announcement. Dorsey tweeted: “I’m really happy Elon is joining the Twitter board! He cares deeply about our world and Twitter’s role in it. Parag and Elon both lead with their hearts, and they will be an incredible team.”
What does Musk’s appointment mean for the average consumer? Well, right now, he can’t completely own the social media company, even if he were to use his wealth to increase his stake. The Verge noted that he’s going “to serve as a Class II director with a term expiring at the Company’s 2024 Annual Meeting of Stockholders,” according to the SEC filing.
“For so long as Mr. Musk is serving on the Board and for 90 days thereafter, Mr. Musk will not, either alone or as a member of a group, become the beneficial owner of more than 14.9% of the Company’s common stock outstanding at such time, including for these purposes economic exposure through derivative securities, swaps, or hedging transactions.”
So Musk is limited in owning 15% of the company – unless he quits and waits 90 days. Really, though, the Tesla CEO doesn’t need to own Twitter to make big changes.
Musk knows the Twitter edit button is a winner
Everyone has had ideas on what Musk could push to change about Twitter – from accepting Dogecoin payments to unbanning previously expelled Twitter users.
Last month, Musk had some ideas. He called himself a “free speech absolutist” and, less than two weeks ago, stressed the importance of Twitter serving as today’s “de facto public town square.”
“Failing to adhere to free speech principles fundamentally undermines democracy,” Musk tweeted on March 26. This is likely in response to Twitter’s management and its messy bid for its version of fairness and truth on the social media platform. Twitter has controversially banned certain accounts and removed disputed tweets it has deemed to be against its rules, and it’s been accused of silencing accounts.
Musk knows that a Twitter edit button feature is an easy win for an artful day one tease. Other decisions, like content moderation, will be much, much harder.
No one seems to agree when it comes to how much content moderation should be involved with such a large social media network. However, the push for an edit button is almost universally desired by every person who has ever made a typo in a tweet (meaning every single one of the more than 300 million active Twitter users). It seems like Musk knows that a Twitter edit button feature is an easy win for an artful day one tease. Other decisions, like content moderation, will be much, much harder.
Of course, the Twitter edit button could all be a tease that leads nowhere. Musk is known for many not-so-serious tweets – and, after challenging Putin to arm wrestling, even briefly changing his Twitter display name to “Elona Musk” to goad a Putin ally who called Musk effeminate.
Twitter CEO calls edit button poll ‘important’
Adding weight to the seriousness of Musk’s poll, Agrawal quote tweeted it, saying: “The consequences of this poll will be important. Please vote carefully.”
Under Dorsey, who stepped down from the CEO role in November 2021, Twitter launched a paid subscription service called Twitter Blue for $2.99 a month. Among the features is an undo button for a tweet, though you can’t actually edit a tweet that’s been made public. You can only recall it from its delayed state (sort of like recalling an email in Gmail a few seconds after hitting the send button).
Twitter’s relationship status with an edit button? It’s complicated
There are reasons why Dorsey and Twitter have previously danced around an edit button without ever taking action – it’s a much more complicated issue than simply adding a button to Twitter’s UI.
With an edit button, users would be able to change the text within a tweet – and that means they could switch up the context of what’s being said. Because you are able to reply, heart and retweet a tweet, you may end up promoting a tweet that gets edited later on and turns into a rather unflattering or toxic message.
A Twitter edit button could fix embarrassing misspellings, but also open up Pandora’s box to mischief. Facebook has allowed users to edit posts, leaving a digital paper trail of what was originally said, which may be one solution for the future of Twitter.
But, as someone with more than one Twitter million followers, my stats prove that it’s incredibly difficult to get 90% of my users to realize an important tweet thread (that they’re interested in) extends beyond the first tweet. Getting people to realize there’s a paper trail of edits before reacting is likely why a true Twitter edit button has never seen the light of day.