Our in-house Know-It-Alls answer questions about your interactions with
Q: Should I delete my tweets?
A: Tweets, by design, suffer from context collapse, the phenomenon by which the common understanding that existed when something was created dwindles and vanishes over time. Perhaps it would be better to erase your history than face the possibility of being misunderstood. Such functionality is not currently built into the native Twitter, but some developers have created services that will delete your tweets for you on a rolling basis. So. Should everyone just delete their tweets?
If you want. I deleted mine and I think three people noticed. But while individually old tweets might not be very useful for you or me, aggregated social data is valuable to researchers. Historians, sociologists, and even epidemiologists can and do gain real insight from looking at old tweets: analyzing the sentiment of a time, the origin of an idea as it flows through the network, even tracking disease, gang violence, and censorship. So, look, if you’re just a regular person riffing on viral memes and having Deep Thoughts in the middle of the night, leave ’em up! For science!
But maybe you’re not just a regular person. Here’s where you need to be honest with yourself: Do you say a lot of stupid things on Twitter? Delete your tweets, because those stupid things will come back to haunt you. Are you concerned that trolls or harassers might try to take one of your old tweets out of context? This is a question facing a lot of journalists, celebrities, and anyone in a public-facing role at the moment, and as Twitter mobs increasingly use old tweets against journalists, many are choosing to delete their tweets to protect themselves. On the flip side, do you harass, intimidate, or threaten people on Twitter? You should delete your account and reconsider your life choices.
If you think you need to push that big red history eraser button, plenty of free or paid services will automatically delete your tweets for you. Once you pick a service, make sure you let your tweets live long enough to live out their meaningful usefulness. That might mean a few days or a few weeks, if you’re someone who habitually engages in threads or long conversations on Twitter—you don’t want your half of the discussion disappear before the conversation is even finished!
You can download your archive of tweets before you delete them, if you worry that maybe the MOST BRILLIANT THING you’ve ever said is buried back in your twitter history, and one day you’ll dig through and find it. (I looked back at my archive once after I deleted my tweets. All that happened was I got very confused about what was going on in my life in 2011.)
There’s a glimmer of a chance you’ll soon have the burden of this existential question lifted from your shoulders: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has said recently that the company is rethinking the design of Twitter completely, which means it’s possible that they could bake ephemerality into the core functionality of the site. Of course, one rule will still be true no matter what: Don’t be a jerk on Twitter.
Emily Dreyfuss writes about how technology affects society and after deleting her tweets this summer in an impulsive act of nihilism then felt a pang of sadness followed by the comforting realization that really, lol, nothing matters.
What can we tell you? No, really, what do you want one of our in-house experts to tell you? Post your question in the comments or email the Know-It-Alls.
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