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What actually happens when you edit a tweet?

The dropdown menu for a tweet, showing the 'Edit tweet' button

You can edit tweets now! But it’s not quite clear what that even means.

It’s been nearly 16 years since Twitter users started asking for an edit button, and seven years since Twitter’s at-the-time CEO told Kim Kardashian that an edit button was a “great idea.” It looked like it might never happen, but Twitter has, at long last, been dragged, kicking and screaming, to the fulfillment of this simple request. Except it’s not a simple request at all. 

Edit button skeptics have long voiced their critiques of this idea. Apart from the hard-line view that tweets are final and that’s what’s actually good about them, there were practical concerns. These are best expressed as what-ifs: What if a powerful person edits an offensive tweet and unfairly changes the record? What if someone hits ‘Like’ on the original tweet, but no longer feels that way about the edited version? What happens to replies and quote tweets if the entire thrust of the original tweet has changed? 

So here are some answers. Note: I conducted my tests on the desktop version of Twitter.

How can I edit a tweet? 

For the time being, the only people who can edit tweets are subscribers to Twitter Blue, which costs $5 per month. If you subscribe and click the hamburger button on the top-right corner of one of your tweets on your desktop, the fabled “Edit Tweet” button will automatically materialize in the dropdown menu, but only if you do this within 30 minutes of posting said tweet. After 30 minutes, your typos are locked in forever.

The new dropdown menu for a user's Tweet, including

The hamburger menu dropdown for Twitter Blue elites
Credit: Mike Pearl / Mashable

The first time you use the feature you’ll get this helpful warning saying that since Twitter Blue users in some countries don’t yet have access to the edit button, you might be dropping hints as to where you are by editing tweets. This would certainly give me pause if I didn’t want other users to know my location.

A pop-up from Twitter warning the user that the edit feature


Credit: Mike Pearl / Mashable

Why can’t I edit my tweet, even though I’m paying for the feature?

Some tweets can’t be edited, even inside the 30-minute window.

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First of all, you’re only allowed five edits. If you just can’t seem to get a tweet the way you want it, and you keep editing and editing, then once you get to edit number five and hit “Update,” you’ll get a warning saying you’re about to be cut off.

A warning from Twitter, saying the user is on their last edit.

You look like you’ve had enough.
Credit: Mike Pearl / Mashable

After that, the edit button on that tweet will disappear.

You also can’t edit your replies to other people’s tweets.

According to my tests, the edit button will also disappear on a tweet if you self-reply to that tweet, and start to create a thread. That is: The original tweet at the top of the thread won’t be editable, and neither will the replies.

Will I get to keep my likes if I edit a tweet?

Yes.

But there’ll be a publicly available version history of the tweet with timestamps. This documents which version of the tweet earned each like.

A version history of a tweet showing that the latest version actually received no likes.

Scintillating content earning massive engagements.
Credit: Mike Pearl / Mashable

So if, for instance, you like someone’s tweet saying “Like this tweet if you love eating nachos,” and then they edit the tweet so it says “Like this tweet if you love eating garbage,” there’s a public record of what you were actually expressing affection for with your like.

The version history will also show which version of a tweet a user replied to.

What happens if someone retweets or quote tweets something, and it gets edited to change the original meaning?

I ethically tested this by tweeting a request for quote tweets, with a warning to other users that if they quote tweeted it, I would change it to “Quote tweet this if you love eating garbage.” A helpful follower promptly quote-tweeted, and I edited the tweet as promised. The resulting quote tweet retained my original tweet text, now gray instead of black, with an added note from Twitter saying there was a new version.

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Clicking anywhere in the quoted tweet allows any user to see the edited version, but there’s no danger of the new version appearing to be endorsed by the user who quote tweeted it.

The downside is that the edited version might be preferable to the original, and the user might wish they had quote tweeted that, but they aren’t given the option to update.

The same thing happens if someone retweets. The old version stays retweeted, with the same note letting readers know there’s a new version.

The user can retweet the edited version if they want, and their timeline will contain both versions. In my test, when a user did this the RT count for the tweet stayed at 1.

What happens if I receive push notifications for an account’s tweets and that account edits a tweet?

As far as I know, I don’t have any followers avid enough to have push notifications set for my tweets, but according to Hank Green, whose account is much, much more popular than mine, they receive a fresh notification for every single edit, so big accounts: consider yourselves warned.

Can someone link to an old version of an edited tweet?

Yes. In addition to the version history, tweets with different versions have different URLs. So in no way is the original, gray version stricken from the permanent record. Replies, retweets, and likes are disabled for gray tweets, but the share button still works.

A gray tweet with its share button still in working order.

You can still share this important document with others.
Credit: Mike Pearl / Mashable

This was a preliminary test, and it may turn out that there are all sorts of holes in this feature that make it possible to prank people or cause actual harm. If those holes exist, however, we haven’t found them yet.

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