Two recent posts made me reconsider how I used social networking.
Previously I’ve always been one of these people who advocated “don’t say anything on the Internet you wouldn’t be happy being public and read by anyone you meet for the rest of your life”. I still think that’s good advice but what I didn’t expect is that as I’ve grown older what views I’m happy to have attached to my person have changed quite a bit. This has nagged at me a little but just resulted in increased personal filtering (and not crossposting my tweets to Facebook) rather than anything dramatic.
This changed when I read Jon Ronson’s (great) piece “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life”. While there wasn’t anything in there that was particular new to me the compilation of these stories disturbed me. While some of these people said some pretty stupid or offensive things: did I think I’m incapable or making some equally ill-thought out remark and having a mob attempt to drive me from the internet? Worse, have I already said something like that and it’s just already waiting there as a time-bomb waiting to go off when the right person does the right Twitter search?
This wasn’t exactly keeping me awake at night but it was something that periodically nagged at me. When I read Kevin Roose’s piece a week later about people who autodeleting their Twitter timelines it resonated with me. This is something that seemed like a good idea: keep social media transient and conversational rather than some sort of permanent record of views I now regret. Unfortunately none of the tools he pointed to in the article hit my particular niche; on Twitter I wanted to delete favourites, retweets and tweets older than 30 days but only those that had had less than five favourites or retweets (as I somewhat trust my followers to judge for me what was insightful and what was meaningless). I wrote a small tool which allows me to do that using the Twitter API and a downloaded Twitter archive (as the API only exposes 3200 tweets). Satisfyingly this has taken my tweet count down from over 20,000 to around 400.
With Twitter solved I looked to do the same thing with Facebook. Sadly, it seems their API does not allow you to delete statuses or events that were not created by the same application (so I can’t programmatically delete anything I’ve not created). Removing my engineering hat I went looking for third-party solutions. The best I found was Facebook Activity Remover which (over the course of a few hours and after spending $2.99) will work its way back through your Facebook activity log and delete anything it can before or after given dates. I left it on overnight and in the morning it had diligently deleted everything on Facebook I’d created outside of the last 30 days.
With Twitter and Facebook cleaned up up I went round the other social networks I was on that had no posts (LinkedIn) or few enough to just manually delete them (Google+).
I wouldn’t necessarily advocate other people doing the same thing I’ve done but it has been an interesting experiment. I’ve cleaned up after myself on the internet and realised what digital things I really care about keeping (longer-form writing and photos, basically). While I have no doubt all this information remains sitting on Twitter and Facebook’s servers at least it is no longer easily accessible to people outside of those organisations. My stupid views of the past can now rest in peace.