October 16, 2019

DISPATCHES FROM THE SOCIAL MEDIA UPHEAVAL: Twitter says it wants to solve the “journalists’ careers end because someone digs up an old tweet” problem.

Twitter has a very particular place in this phenomenon, because it is simultaneously (a) perhaps the mainstream social platform that structurally most encourages the frequent sharing of brief tossed-off thoughts and (b) the platform least interested in rendering any of its content less than permanent. It’s got a robust search function; you can’t hide individual tweets, only an entire account; there’s no good way to keep some of your tweets limited to a small group of friends instead of the entire Internet; deleting old tweets takes a ton of tedious one-by-one clicking.

So it’s interesting to hear that Twitter’s thinking about changing things up and injecting a bit more ephemerality into Your Permanent Record. Product lead Kayvon Beykpour — who apparently got engaged this weekend, congrats! — spoke with The Verge’s Nilay Patel and Casey Newton on The Vergecast and talked about the company’s desire to make tweets more ephemeral… Casey then comes correct with the obvious solution:

I’ll tell you, my request is, I would love to set all my tweets to just go private after a year, basically. And the reason is just that cultural standards change enough that I either have to delete all of the tweets on a regular basis or I could just set them private, right? Because we’ve now seen bad actors sort of digging into peoples’ old tweets, taking them out of context and wreaking all kinds of havoc. So, I would just love a way to never have to think about that again, basically…

I mean, journalists’ careers end because someone digs up an old tweet, you know?

As long as everyday people were having their lives destroyed via ill-conceived tweets (a key topic of Glenn’s new book, as well as the 2015 book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson), Twitter’s ozone layer of management were happy to turn a blind eye. In the past couple of years it’s been discovered that leftist journalists and political operatives (not always the same thing) had a penchant for writing racist tweets as a form of identity politics shock theater during their younger days. Last month, after pushback over the Des Moines Register’s efforts to wreck Carson King, the phrase “mutually assured cancellation” arose as a way for non-journalists to fight back against cancel culture destroying their lives, often at their first peak of success. Now that the left are no longer guaranteed at having the exclusive right to blow up someone’s life, suddenly – unexpectedly! – Twitter management has the “desire to make tweets more ephemeral.”

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