The Depressing Truth About Deleting Your Online History
Self-destructing tweets highlight how the internet has failed us
I torched all my old tweets at the beginning of this year, using one of the many websites that help you destroy your online past. Like any reasonable person, I’ve never been a virulent racist or sexist. But the unscrupulous, mass-deletion of personal almanacs has become something of a rite of passage for anyone who spends a lot of time internet.
You probably know the deal: Click on a prominent Twitter account and there’s a decent chance the person behind it has reduced their total tweet count to triple digits, at most. Last Jedi director Rian Johnson did it. So did Kanye, Lindsay Lohan, and any number of other public figures.
We’re in the middle of a communication breakdown.
The internet once seemed to promise an endless, uncensored repository of memories. In high school, I dreamed about one day revisiting Myspace and LiveJournal, my online haunts, where every good and bad night was documented in something close to real time. I thought I would be in the first generation to remember everything.
Lately, the possibility sounds more like a nightmare.
Old tweets now sour the fortunes of people who have something to lose. Director James Gunn was fired after pedophilia jokes from 2010 and 2011 were resurfaced by a right-wing smear campaign. Brewers reliever Josh Hader was forced to apologize before his inaugural All-Star game appearance after he was caught being racist online as a teenager. WWE wrestler Cedric Alexander did the same after an old one-liner about rape was dredged up from the ether.
Tech optimists used to wax poetic about how the internet was going to make us a smarter, more erudite, more empathetic global community. But in 2018, it’s become clear that we’re in the middle of a communication breakdown, and that nobody has a good answer for how to properly engage with the things we once posted online, however dumb or horrible.
So, I asked a few people why they decided to obliterate their online pasts — which once lived so clearly in stream-of-consciousness Twitter…