What if you could cross out tweets, asks Oliver Reichenstein, designer at the digital product company iA. He argues in a blog post that the new system could help users acknowledge their errors without looking as if they are trying to cover them up.
Reichenstein explains why he thinks a crossed-out tweet would be better than a deleted one: “A missing tweet also doesn’t explain why it’s missing. Excuses might be posted after the mistake happened — but they might also never be seen,” he writes.
“The only format that clearly states a mistake is a fat strike through. It is a strong answer to any interpretations and accusations that follow. It clearly says: “Don’t read this. This is all wrong. I take it back. I’m sorry.” Deleted tweets don’t say that — they smell like a cover-up and often make you look suspicious. And apologetic follow-up tweets don’t have the power to neutralize that screenshot of you screwing up,” he argues.
It would be easy to imagine how this could benefit journalism by helping to block the flow of misinformation. A few months ago, Poynter’s Craig Silverman wrote an article about data from Social Flow, which suggested that incorrect tweets travel both further and faster than corrections. Although Silverman has his own suggestions about how to correct false information on Twitter (actively contact people who have retweeted incorrect information, encourage them to retweet the correction to their followers), surely a strike-through function would be a valuable addition to his accuracy toolbox?
The feature would also imitate the correction policy of a number of publications, including the Columbia Journalism Review, which promote transparency by leaving their crossed-out errors on show, rather than deleting them (see the first sentence of this post, for example).
Journalism.co.uk has asked a few social media experts involved in the news business about the new idea, and all responded with cautious approval, while also suggesting potential problems with the new system,
Mark Jones, Thompson Reuters’ Global Communities Editor told Journalism.co.uk, “the ability to use strike-through won’t solve all the problems of errors amplifying around the web but it will certainly help."
The BBC’s Social Media Editor Chris Hamilton said “a strike-through could be a halfway option, allowing you to flag that you know the tweet is wrong, have some clarity in your timeline about why a follow-up tweet contradicts one already sent, while avoiding the charge of censorship or attempting to cover things up inherent with a deletion,” writes Journalism.co.uk. However, Hamilton expresses doubts about adding extra features, saying that part of Twitter’s strength is its simplicity, the article added.
Reichenstein also acknowledges the technical objections to the idea, as he reposts the reaction of Twitter’s creative director, Doug Bowman, to his suggestion.
“I struggle with the additional complexity that forking delete like this would bring,” tweeted Bowman. “Especially if it means needing to bury those features to prevent accidental discovery by those who’d be confused.” Bowman also tweeted “As you’ve noticed, it’s hard for Twitter to justify spending resources on features than would be used by a small relative base."
Image via iA