I recently got an e-mail saying I had violated Twitter’s rules for hateful conduct. I immediately thought my account password had been compromised, or that this was a phishing attempt. I rarely post to Twitter anymore, except to promote this website or other personal projects. The e-mail was real though, and Twitter locked my account for a Tweet I made nearly a decade ago!
It’s honestly a very immature tweet. It’s something I wouldn’t say today. I have personally grown past the hate of the two party system. I feel like I have a clearer and more mature view on American elections, as well as seeing past the endless media designed to keep most people angry. This tweet was from a different era in my life. I’m not proud of it, yet it is a part of my history. Furthermore, it’s nearly a decade old.
Why now? Why is Twitter locking my account for a nine year old tweet? I can’t imaging anyone going through tweets from 2010 and actively reporting them, so it seems more likely that they must be using some algorithm to go back and find posts they consider offensive, throughout the history of their site.
Human beings grow. Part of learning to be better people is to be able to look at our past, our inexperience and our embarrassment, and acknowledge that’s who we were. I use to be an evangelical Christian, another thing I’m not proud of. Even though I no longer hold the same views on God, I acknowledge that past was an important part of my growth and development, and that the experience helps me relate to a whole group of people others have trouble understanding. The majority of our fiction, both novels and movies, depend on characters growing throughout the story. If there is no growth, the stories tend to be boring, and aren’t received well by their audiences.
If Twitter is scanning old tweets and attempting to erase them, they’re also erasing a part of their history and the history of their users. They’re trying to wash over a troubled situation within our current context by rewriting the past. It’s just another indication that we should stop using third party platforms where we are the product and don’t have control over the content we generate.
In recent years I’ve been using an open source, federated alternative to Twitter that uses a protocol called ActivityPub. I run my own server for myself and my friends. People on my server can communicate with other servers that support ActivityPub, similar to e-mail. If people on my server don’t like the way I manage it, they can always export their content and start their own, or transfer to someone else’s server.
I started using Twitter back in 2008. Before the age of smart phones, Twitter could send tweets via SMS/text message (hence the 140 character limit) and it was used by many of my friends as a type of group message chat. One of those friends is no longer with us, and I wonder what would happen if Twitter locked and censored the account of a dead person. They’d have absolutely no way to respond, and their history on this one corner of the Internet would disappear from the pages of time.
I doubt anyone cares about this Tweet I made in 2010, except the algorithms. I suspect critics of Twitter use their own search algorithms to aggregate offensive Tweets and build statistics for news headlines. Twitter might be trying to meet that criticism by cleaning up and censoring content that they once allowed on their site. It’s not only washing out its own history, but the histories, both the beautiful and the ugly, of all the users that made Twitter what it is today.
This should be a clear warning of the upcoming age of corporate Internet censorship that we now live in, and I would hope it would encourage people to start hosting their own long form content, on servers they pay for, instead of being the product of other businesses that manipulate the content and narrative of their users, in order to keep the world safe for their advertisers.