How to scrub your Twitter timeline of iffy Tweets – for potential politicians etc

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

  1. Before you delete
  2. How to delete a Tweet / undo a ReTweet
  3. 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 πŸ™‚

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.

See Nine More Tweets sign

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.

Twitter Advanced Search

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 πŸ™‚

You can click on the bold year / month at the top to zoom out or zoom in on a particular year or month range.

Twitter Advanced Search 2011

After you’ve run the search you’ll see something like this, plus a whole load of tweets.

Twitter Advanced Search Results

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.

ReTweets
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.

Twitter Download data

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.

 

 

 

 

 

You can only delete Twitter DMs (Direct Messages) from your own mailbox

tl;dr: If you send a DM and then immediately delete it will the other person see it? Yes – you are deleting only your own copy, not theirs. Once sent, it’s sent.


The screenshot in the tweet below comes from Twitter’s support pages on Direct Messages, in particular the section on ‘Things to know about Direct Messages‘. The text says “When you delete a Direct Message or conversation (sent or received), it is deleted from your account only. Others in the conversation will still be able to see Direct Messages or conversations that you have deleted. When you delete a group conversation, you will leave that group and will no longer be able to participate.

I spotted this yesterday and a friend helped me check to see if it was the case. It is. It seems to be a new thing but I don’t know when it was implemented, or why. I’m fairly certain that it used to be the case that if you deleted a direct message then it was deleted everywhere, but that is no longer what happens.

In the screenshot within the second embedded tweet (above) my friend has deleted the direct message saying “Let me know when you’ve seen this DM… and I’ll delete it“. After refreshing my page (and also checking on my phone) his DM was still there for me. I also deleted one of his and we tried all the permutations we could think of.

So… if you send a DM and delete it the other person will still have a copy.

Note that if the other party has email notifications switched on it’s possible that the email will contain a copy of the text of the DM*, or just inform them that a DM has been sent (possibly both – I switched off email notifications as soon as I could so no longer know what’s in them).

*the same email notification thing would happen with an at-mention too.

Supplemental
What happens to the DMs of someone blocks you? They’ll still be there.

I’m blocked by several #homeopathy fans though I’ve exchanged a few DM messages with one, who later blocked me again). Those messages are still there – I’ve no idea if the other party deleted them too (I didn’t delete mine, just forgot about them but went and checked). Until this moment I’d assumed that blocking someone wiped the DMs. I’m not sure if it did and Twitter’s restored them to my mailbox (literally not looked at them in two years) or if they were always there.

This also means that all of my Quora answers on the topic have turned out to be wrong πŸ˜‰

I have been trying to find out when this change (I’m convinced it’s a change and that it hasn’t always been this way) and the earliest tweet(s) I can find about it are below.

This suggests the change happened between 2014 and 2015 – anyone know more?

Got it! July 2014! See point 5 in the list change from 7th to 19th July. There isn’t an archived snapshot of the page between 7-19th July but Lou and Sharon’s tweeted exchange above suggests deleting still affected both parties on 9 July 2014.

7 July 2014 – archived copy of Twitter’s support article from that date, screenshot below

Screenshot 2017-10-06 23.46.53

19 July 2014 – archived copy of Twitter’s support article from that date, screenshot below

Screenshot 2017-10-06 23.49.29.png

This refers to using Twitter on the web, the info also tells you how to delete DMs using a phone but doesn’t specify if they’re deleted for the other person too.