You should delete your tweets

Let them go.

Hi. This is Can.

twttr

This is probably not news to you, but I use Twitter often. Probably more than I should. I check it, involuntarily, a few times an hour. Following a few hundred people, and some of them avid Twitter users themselves, I never run out of stuff to read. More than anything, I enjoy the banter and people being “dumb” on it. To a slightly smaller degree, I also use it to keep up with the news.

For example, I got the wind of the Turkish coup attempt in 2016 on Twitter. Literally while watching water boil at work to make some tea, I saw some people tweeting about army soldiers on the Bosphorus bridge and called my parents, who were in Turkey to see what's up. Their first reaction was to dismiss it (“Probably just another bomb threat”) but then the jets flying over their heads acquitted me. I have heard about what's happening a couple hundred meters from them before they could, while being on the other side of the world. As far as pointless bragging rights go, it's a good one.

I also have a sizable following on Twitter, currently at 13K people. I assume a decent chunk of those people are bots, and another sizable portion is probably barely active users. I don’t know how I particularly amassed such a following; it’s a combination of being a relatively early user and getting some “important” people to follow me back in the day, and being occasionally funny. Having a short username, which also happens to be my name andan auxiliary verb also helps, but less than you think. I also get sketchy attempts to take over my account every month or so. I generally play along until the end, much to those folks’ chagrin. Also, if you want to buy my account, it’s not for sale. But if you wired me $10M in unmarked bills, I could leave the password in your doorstep by mistake.

Yet, if you look at my Twitter account of 11 years, you’ll at most see a few dozen tweets. The rests is gone, forever. I started out by using a script written by Robin Sloan, interestingly a former Twitter employee. Then I put that script on a small server and built a web app so I could run it from my phone when I wanted. These days, I use a combination of the script from my laptop when I feel like it, and using the privacy app Jumbo’s auto deletion feature.

Today, it seems insane to me that most people do not delete their tweets. It seems outright crazy, as it always had, that people are comfortable with putting their thoughts online to be archived and be visible to the rest of the world, forever. Snapchat was probably one of the first to figure, if not accidentally stumble into it by way of “sexting”, the freedom of not having to worry about permanence.

Unrelenting, Twitter marches on, all immutable and tamper proof. You cannot even edit your tweets. I am not going to argue why the arguments against editing are bad (which, they are). Yet, I will argue why you should periodically delete your tweets.

Change is Good

Start with yourself. You are allowed to be stupid at times. In fact, everyone is allowed to be an idiot. People say what comes into their minds all the time, and sometimes it is dumb and embarrassing. But more importantly, they are allowed to change their opinions. Sometimes, that means making an 180 degree turn, and disowning what you used to hold near and dear to your heart. Being able to sometimes entirely change course, based on evidence, self-reflection, or simply changing circumstances does not always mean flip-flopping, it shows maturity.

Yet, tweets are, by design, carved into Jack Dorsey’s hard drives forever, unless they are explicitly deleted. They are not just reminders of your thoughts, but also markers of where your stance on various topics start and end. Each time you express your thoughts, and someone interacts with them, you dig deeper and and get more invested in them. The more they exist, the more your momentary, impulsive, often off the cuff quips become defining you, versus the opposite. Not having to worry about what you've said before can unshackle you from your previous thoughts. Instead of having to lean in to what you have said before, you can analyze every situation independently.

Your Audience Picks You

And then there's the larger Twitter universe. A tweet quoted or screencapped out of context can have wide reaching effects on your personal life. It doesn’t even to be malicious, in a platform where the unit of thoughts is limited to 280 characters, nuance is not a priority. There’s simply no way to attach all the context you had, personally, when you posted something while waiting for the bus.

There are very few spaces left on the global, public internet. A simple joke, aimed at your closest friends can immediately go viral and be plastered on timelines of millions of people. It’s simply impossible when your thought reach that many people someone will, intentionally or not, be offended, take it the wrong way.

And of course, there's the echo chamber issue. Call it a Trump-bump, but Twitter has a disproportionate influence on the political and media discourse. Only 20% of Internet users in US have a Twitter account, and of those even a tinier percentage generate most of the real tweets. Obviously, when the president of the US conducts most of this daily presidential duties on Twitter, the attention might feel warranted. Yet, as my co-host Ranjan put it last week, it's also possible to find anything that supports your view now. You can be a New York Times columnist, yet can find an account with a few dozen followers to prove your point. No one even knows what's real on it, but who cares.

Permanent Internet

The fact that we have the capabilities to store everything that has ever happened in pristine format forever does not mean that we should. We are evolved to forget, and pay less attention to the past. Past stays in the past, and acquires a different quality in the real world. However, in the world of zeros and bytes, there’s no way to discern the happened from the happening. We are fast forwarding into a future we might not even able to tell what’s real and what’s generated by some neural net somewhere, so why even bring the past into the mix?

I recognize the slight irony of spilling so much ink on this. To most people, Twitter is just another app on their phone where they can check out latest sports news or see what feathers some crazy person ruffled somewhere. Yet, to a small but vocal minority of people, including yours truly, it's where you get most of your news, meet interesting people and generally and participate in the culture. I remember reading about how Twitter's leaked documents showed the company wanted to be the "pulse of the planet" and laughing about it. Yet, to some approximation, they pulled it off. Whether that's been a good thing, is another discussion.

However, I also think as an active participant of such a force of culture, I want to make my own impression on it. For me, having an ephemeral existence on Twitter is what makes it fun. I treat it as it should be treated. Maybe you'll feel the same way. If you do, let me know. And if not, hey, that's OK too. I'll find your tweets and embarrass you later.


What I’m Reading

The disinformation age: a revolution in propaganda: In the age of social media, the scarce commodity is not information, but attention. But it’s not much easier to drown out the signal via noise. You can also do that without anyone ever figuring out who you are. There are no paper trails. People used to joke that “on the internet, no one knows you are a dog”. Maybe, now no one knows who anyone is anymore.

Gloria remembers how in Marcos’s time you could see the enemy. There was a sort of predictability: they could kill you, or you could skip town, contact a lawyer, write to a human rights group, take up arms. You knew who the agents were, who was coming for you, who your enemy was. But now? You couldn’t tell who you were up against. They were anonymous, everywhere and nowhere. How could you fight an online mob? You couldn’t even tell how many of them were real. And of course this allowed the government to claim they had nothing to do with these campaigns. Wasn’t it just a question of concerned citizens exercising their right to free speech?

Investors Are Usually Wrong. I’m One of Them: We wrote previously about the dangers of lowering the friction in investing. Retail investors, unsurprisingly, lose money. That makes sense; how could a zealous dentist with some extra cash beat people who crunch numbers day and night? But, in fact, most of number crunchers also lose money. Everyone does. It is really hard to beat the market.

“If you are going to need money soon, for retirement or to finance education or to buy a house, you shouldn’t take risks with it,” said Louis S. Harvey, Dalbar’s president. “Keep that money safe and separate. But for the rest of your money, the long-term money, stay invested in the market. Don’t do anything fancy with it, and just keep it there.”