Earlier this year, on May 8th, I deleted all my tweets, which amounted to nearly 5,000. I distinctly remember the day because I even tweeted about it. However, this morning, I made an unsettling discovery: Twitter has restored a few of my old retweets, interactions that I had deliberately removed from my profile. Those retweets were gone, or so I thought. To my surprise, they have reappeared when scrolling down my timeline past May 8th, and selecting “tweets with replies” reveals even more restored tweets.
The content of these restored retweets is unremarkable. There’s a video of kids cheering a construction worker and a Sopranos meme about Lindy, among others. The oldest one dates back to 2020, a video from the George Floyd protests that I would have shared when they were happening. Why on Earth is Twitter restoring information from three years ago? And what does this say about users’ control over their own data? Clearly, it raises concerns.
I’m not the only one who has noticed deleted tweets resurfacing recently. After seeing a post on Mastodon, where a user complained about 34,000 of their deleted tweets being restored, I decided to check my timeline. Open-source developer Dick Morrell tweeted on May 17th that he had deleted all his tweets and ran a tool called Redact to remove his likes, media, and retweets. However, he woke up to find 34,000 of them restored by Twitter, presumably due to a server farm being brought back online. This situation highlights why using Twitter may not be advisable.
The extent of this problem and its cause remain unclear. It could be related to the tweet deletion tool used (I used TweetDelete.net, while Morrell used Redact), or it might be a result of Twitter’s servers being moved, inadvertently restoring the data. ZDNET reported that Morrell received similar reports from over 400 individuals experiencing the same issue. A quick survey among my colleagues at The Verge, who have also mass-deleted tweets, yielded mixed results. Some said their old tweets remained deleted, while others said some had resurfaced.
These incidents further expose Twitter’s deteriorating infrastructure and its inability to fulfill even the most fundamental functions it promises its users. Some of these shortcomings existed before Elon Musk took over the company, such as the persistent problem of properly deleting direct messages. However, since Musk’s arrival, there has been an increase in bugs, with users reporting similar glitches like private tweets becoming public.
While this issue may seem inconsequential to me, it points to a larger problem. Twitter continues to be a crucial tool for activists, whistleblowers, and protesters worldwide. Turkey’s insistence on blocking certain tweets during its ongoing elections exemplifies Twitter’s continued significance. Yet, if you are a political dissenter in an authoritarian country, the ability to delete your own tweets could be vital for your freedom. Despite Musk’s rhetoric about free speech, it appears that the company doesn’t prioritize this matter.