I’m on Twitter. More than one person has noticed I’ve begun deleting old tweets, and asked me about it.
The short version of my reasoning is: in recent years I’ve seen the internet produce a tendency toward mob mentality that can accomplish scary effects.
The longer version is, I read this article about the lasting consequences for Justine Sacco produced by just one poor-taste tweet, and I got to thinking. Then I read this other article about twitter users who regularly prune their timelines, and got to thinking some more.
Then I decided to wipe out my Twitter history, and keep it wiped.
It’s unlikely I’ll ever post anything as instantly offensive to such a large portion of the web-using population as Justine Sacco’s heard-round-the-world tweet. But the thing with the modern internet is you can never tell just what’s going to set it off. What you might consider a harmless snarky remark (and, honestly, that’s about all for which I use Twitter) may offend the sensibilities of a stranger on the other side of the planet — and then the rest of the web will gleefully roast you over it, for the lulz.
Effectively, with never a shot fired, the internet has become its own police state.
Wiping my Twitter history doesn’t protect me from the web in all respects. But it should largely safeguard me against that particularly egregious online dogpiling tactic: digging up a remark made years ago in order to shame someone who’s only just become noteworthy.
(I do not foresee any reason I should become suddenly noteworthy in the near future; this is all done from an abundance of caution.)
How It’s Done
There are two stages to wiping one’s Twitter history — deleting the existing history, and “ongoing maintenance.” There are a number of tools which claim to be able to delete your old tweets in bulk, but after much trying I found only one that really works: the Twitter Archive Eraser by Martani Fakhrou. It does only run on Windows, but these days that’s no great hardship for the tenacious Mac user. Just get Oracle’s free Virtual Box and install on it the Windows 10 Technical Preview
Once you’ve signed in with the Archive Eraser it’s easy to delete tweets whole months or years at a time.
After wiping the slate clean, you need a way to make sure your history gets pruned on an ongoing basis. I use TweetDelete and set it to delete everything older than one week. Due to the frequency at which TweetDelete scans timelines, you’ll occasionally see an eight-day-old tweet even with this setting. That’s okay.
Short of shutting down Twitter (and, well, this blog) entirely, there’s no ironclad protection from the internet mob. But following the steps above have allowed me to continue tweeting with a new peace of mind.