Note that I use the Good Twitter browser add-on to make Twitter look and behave how it used to before the recent big changes, so my screenshots may not match yours.
Every so often someone finds an old tweet from a political candidate which embarrasses them and in some cases wrecks their chance of being selected, or elected. It might well be for the best that these are uncovered, so people know what they’re dealing with, but this post looks at ways of deleting old and embarrassing tweets.
I’d assumed that political parties would have prepared some sort of Advice to Potential Candidates on handling previous social media posts, but the continued re-publication of people’s earlier dodgy tweets suggests otherwise. I’d also have assumed that there would be some sort of Reputation Management companies that could help with this. Maybe there are and people are failing to take advantage.
Table of Contents
- Before you delete
- How to delete a Tweet / undo a ReTweet
- Search for the unwise Tweets you’ve sent
1. Before you delete
The point of deleting a dodgy old Tweet is to hide something that you once said and either now disagree with, or still agree with it but would rather pretend you didn’t. Deleting such Tweets is therefore largely an exercise in dishonesty and self-preservation – I’m sure you’ll go far in politics 🙂
Keep copies: It’s probably a good idea to take and keep a screenshot (how to do that) of anything you’re going to delete, perhaps including the URL / address if you’re able. I’d also recommend taking screenshot copies of the conversation thread if it’s in one, for context. Be aware that someone else may already have a screencap of your Tweet and taken out of context it may look much worse.
Will your deletions be flagged?: Politwoops UK (there are versions for several countries) records whenever a politician deletes a Tweet and if your account is being monitored then a copy of the Tweet and when you deleted it will live on there.
Tweets you send and delete seconds later may be noted: If someone is viewing Twitter via a web browser and if they leave the tab open then a build up of tweets gives a note like this, clicking on it brings up the waiting Tweets that arrived but weren’t shown and if yours was among them it will show up (even if you deleted it seconds later). This also happens if you reply to someone, and they have their Notifications page open in a tab. The tweet would disappear once they refresh the page but your tweet will likely be seen.
Is it better to own your mistake?: If you come across a dodgy tweet you’ve sent and regret it consider if saying so is better than deleting / denying it. Also will it look worse if you’re found to have deleted a tweet and then someone produces a copy of it?
It may all blow over anyway: lots of people mature over the several years they’ve been on Twitter and this progress may be more dramatic depending on how young they were when they joined. It’s not always fair to assume the worst, though of course it does depend on what people have discovered that you’ve written.
2. How to delete a Tweet / undo a ReTweet
Twitter’s help files have a whole page on how to delete a Tweet or undo a ReTweet. After the preamble on that page you’ll find an option to
“View instructions for… [Apple phones] [Android phones] [desktop computers]”
If you delete a DM (Direct Message) it’s deleted only from your own account, not the recipient’s.
3. Search for the unwise Tweets you’ve sent
Note that Twitter no longer shows every single thing in its search results. It can hide tweets it thinks are low value or ones that lots of people have reported as being offensive. Sometimes it shows the ‘best’ or ‘most relevant’ tweets first, so it’s wise to use a range of different search strategies to find Tweets if you suspect they’re there but not appearing in your results.
A basic search might involve searching from:yourname keyword and seeing if there’s anything particularly heinous in there, and deleting it if there is (while bearing in mind my earlier points about screencapping and so on).
As an example here’s everything I’ve ever said about muffins (a lot less than I’d have thought).
From:You to the world
- My top tweets about muffins from:JoBrodie muffins
- All my muffin-themed tweets ordered by latest first – from:JoBrodie muffins (achieved by choosing ‘Latest’ from the available options after doing the first search)
If you suspect you’ve sent a dodgy tweet to someone you can include that in your search string.
From:You to someone else
- If you’ve replied to one of their tweets try – from:YourName to:OtherUser
- If you’ve replied to several people including them try – from:YourName OtherUser
You can also find all the tweets you sent in 2017, or 2011 or between the 4th and 16th March 2013, using the Advanced Search (in fact I’d recommend familiarising yourself with the Advanced options anyway).
Note that the calendar input used to be be a bit skittish on Advanced Search. I’d previously recommend sticking any old date in then neatening it up on the search results page but it seems to have improved lately.
Advanced Search dates uses the YYYY-MM-DD style so 2011-01-01 is 1 Jan 2011 and 2011-11-27 is 27 Nov 2011. I think of this as ‘US style’ but my friend Nick tells me it might be called something else 🙂
You can click on the bold year / month at the top to zoom out or zoom in on a particular year or month range.
After you’ve run the search you’ll see something like this, plus a whole load of tweets.
The oval-shaped search box next to the avatar is where you can manually tinker with the dates. That search results page is linked here, you can adapt it for your search.
Other Tweets you’ve replied to
You might not be able to remember who you’ve sent a reply to, but if you think you’ve agreed with or endorsed someone else’s dodgy tweet then have a think about the sorts of things you might say in reply to them, such as “Typical”, “Agree” or “haha” etc and search for tweets you’ve sent saying that.
I’m afraid I don’t know how you could search for your ReTweets of other people’s tweets. You can certainly Un-ReTweet them (if you’ve found them, see above). If I find out I’ll add it here. Possibly there are more technical solutions (where you interact with Twitter’s API) but that’s beyond this blog and my skill level.
Searching through your own archive
You can download your Twitter archive (you request it by scrolling to the bottom of that page and clicking “Request data”, Twitter packages up your tweets, then revisit the page a bit later and download the zip file they give you) but it’s become much less useful recently. It used to give you a single index.htm file that you could open in a web browser and call up your previous tweets now sitting locally on your computer. You could even click through and read them on Twitter.com (and delete them if you wanted to). It doesn’t seem as straightforward now though and I’ve not really explored this option as a quick way of searching a copy of your tweets.
More from Twitter’s help files on How to download your Twitter archive
My friend Lynn wondered about downloading your tweets as a spreadsheet but I’m afraid I don’t know how it’s done – I didn’t even know it was possible (beyond copying a copy of every tweet you or someone else sends to a Google Sheet using IFTTT – note that this only works for tweets sent after you’ve set that up, not previous ones). I’ve got over 100,000 tweets though so I’m keen not to look at them in a spreadsheet format.