Here’s a simple idea: Twitter verified accounts should not be allowed to delete their tweets.
Verified status by Twitter doesn’t imply endorsement by Twitter, but it does mean the account is of public interest. The little blue badge is what helps you distinguish between Donald Trump’s real twitter account and thousands of parody or hoax accounts that use similar twitter handles and copy his profile images and text.
If verifying the identity of an account is in the public interest, isn’t it also in the public interest to ensure that their twitter timeline is also an accurate reflection of the things they’ve publicly tweeted?
Deleting inconvenient tweets is popular among public figures. The cabinet nominee who wants to erase memories of things they’ve said about the department they’ve been nominated to lead. The politician who backed the losing candidate in the primaries who wants to pretend he never said all those nasty things about his party’s nominee in the general election. The congressman who faced a backlash for that insensitive thing he said.
Positions change over time and people should be allowed to change their minds as they learn new information. Things they’ve said years ago shouldn’t automatically disqualify them from anything that contradicts that position today. But they need to explain the change; they shouldn’t be able to simply pretend it never happened.
A less obvious problem with deleted tweets is it makes forgeries easier. It’s easy to forge a screenshot and claim it’s a tweet that has been deleted. Here’s one that CNN accidentally tweeted publicly instead of DMing their co-conspirators. Good thing we got a screenshot before they deleted it!
This forgery took me about five minutes to create. This one might be a little too on the nose to be believable, but the fact that it’s impossible to tell it apart from an actual deleted tweet also makes it impossible to definitively prove that this image is a forgery.
In a world where tweets couldn’t be deleted it would be relatively easy for anyone to prove or disprove its authenticity by challenging the forger to link to the source or searching CNN’s history for matching tweets.
If this seems far fetched, it’s already been attempted by bad actors on both sides. Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump have both been victims of forged tweets.
A small step for Twitter
Twitter has taken a lot of flak recently for their role in the spread of fake news. They need to track down bot networks, shut down follower factories, and prevent extremists from using their platform to spread violence. Those are all hard problems to solve.
Preventing verified accounts from rewriting history would be a small step for Twitter to show that they are serious about the role their platform plays in the public record.
The featured image is based on the original by Andy Melton. CC BY-SA.