An Analysis of Deleted Tweets

November 7, 2013

It is only human to wish we could take back hurtful or embarrassing words. On the other hand, it is tough to search for information that is no longer there. University of Edinburgh researchers have been looking into the motives behind deleted Twitter missives, we learn in Digital Trends‘ piece, “New Research is Revealing What Tweets Get Deleted—and Why.” You can see the study as a PDF here.

Not surprisingly, a particularly rich field for deleted tweets lies in the political realm. Writer Kate Knibbs tells us:

“Nicko Margolies, projects coordinator for the Sunlight Foundation (the organization that runs Politiwoops) says that they’ve noted a number of reasons politicians have chosen to delete their tweets. ‘The ones that we find most interesting are the situations where politicians change their position on something or craft their language into a message others are using. This is often seen through popular hashtags or talking points that many politicians echo to their followers, bringing the issue (and their position) to the forefront of the digital conversation,’ he says.”

Of course. The team says, though, that public figures are not the only ones concerned with how their 140-words-or-less may be interpreted. They found that many reconsidered tweets contained curse words. In what I suspect is a related finding, they discovered people are more likely to delete tweets very late at night.

Tweets containing sensitive information like social security numbers or email addresses are also more likely to be removed. Knibbs sensibly wonders whether such deletions increased after revelations about NSA surveillance came out, but that information is not available. She hopes other researchers take up the topic of deleted online postings because, she says, what we choose to redact reveals much about online behavior. Such studies could even prompt us to pause before we post something we’d regret. Maybe.

Cynthia Murrell, November 07, 2013

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