Twitter Is Changing. Here’s What Government Needs to Know.
Following an announcement from Twitter that the long awaited “edit” feature is currently in the testing process, and news about Elon Musk taking on ownership, what do government social media managers need to know?
Such a feature raises questions about maintaining public records, the potential for the spread of misinformation and other issues. Now, with the headlines swirling around billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s plans to purchase the platform for a handsome $44 billion, things seem even more open to interpretation.
The edit feature announcement came from an April 5 tweet from Twitter’s communications team, which said that the company has been working on the edit feature since last year. The tweet stated that testing will take place in the coming months to determine the specifics of the feature.
now that everyone is asking…— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) April 5, 2022
yes, we’ve been working on an edit feature since last year!
no, we didn’t get the idea from a poll 😉
we're kicking off testing within @TwitterBlue Labs in the coming months to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what’s possible.
More details came from Jay Sullivan, the head of consumer product at Twitter, who tweeted that testing would begin within Twitter Blue Labs, which offers Twitter Blue subscribers early access to possible new features.
He added that the addition of the feature will take time to get right.
“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,” Sullivan wrote. “Protecting the integrity of that public conversation is our top priority when we approach this work.”
The Public Sector Prepares
Gilgenbach does not expect the edit feature to have a significant impact on the city’s social media strategy.
One use case Gilgenbach foresees is that the ability to edit will allow the city to update posts about critical incidents. For example, if a tornado warning was announced but is no longer in effect, that could be clarified as needed.
There will also be the question of whether vendors that government agencies use to preserve content will be able to capture the edits needed to ensure thorough record-keeping. That is yet to be determined, although he noted that they can do so with Facebook.
He said it will be important to “wait and see” the feature’s impact when, and if, it goes live for all users.
Kristen Waggener, communications and marketing director for the city of Bryan, Texas, has been involved in social media since her first government job in 2012. As she sees it, social media is an important part of the dialogue between residents and their government.
Waggener said the city will approach Twitter’s edit feature similarly to the way it approaches that of Facebook. For example, the city may use it to correct typos.
“I don’t think it’s going to be quite the bombshell that it was initially when Facebook rolled out editing as an option,” she said. “That kind of really changed the game in terms of being able to make those quick edits. But because we already have that functionality on the other platform, this will just make it easier on Twitter to be able to do the same.”
The city retains everything it does on social media for public records purposes, which is something she advises all government organizations ensure they are doing.
Whether the edit button is a good or bad idea as a policy matter is unclear, according to India McKinney, director of federal affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
It remains to be seen whether it will have a positive or negative impact on the spread of misinformation because that is difficult to quantify, McKinney explained, even as other platforms like Facebook and Instagram already offer this ability.
However, there are steps that Twitter can take to improve the use of this feature, and it comes down to transparency. McKinney said companies, like Twitter, should clearly state their governing rules for what users can post and share.
With regards to the edit feature, any limitations should be clear with users about how this will work. For example, if time limitations allow users to edit tweets from 10 minutes ago but not those from 10 years ago, that should be explicitly stated. In addition, she said there should be a clear process for redress if a user needs to communicate an issue back to the company.
However, these things will become more apparent in time as the feature is rolled out.
“It’s really hard to know what the impacts of anything are going to be until you actually see it in the wild,” she said.
A Question That "Musk" Be Asked
As announced this week, Elon Musk and Twitter have entered into an agreement for the billionaire to purchase the platform for approximately $44 billion. But will this ownership change have any impact on the social media strategies of government agencies?
“I don’t anticipate there being much need, at least in the short term, for changing our strategy or how we’re handling social media,” Gilgenbach said on the subject.
Residents have come to expect and engage with the city’s presence on the platform, he added, and there are no plans to discontinue or change use.
However, he did note that if this ownership change leads to increased paywalls for the platform or its features, that may deter use across the public sector, especially for smaller agencies without a designated social media budget.
Similarly, the city of Bryan’s social media strategy is unlikely to change unless there are significant changes in the platform’s functionality that would impact its ability to communicate with residents, Waggener explained.
The specifics of how the platform’s new ownership will ultimately change its functionality remain to be seen.
Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic.