Twitter has made every public tweet made since the service started in 2006 available through its search engine, making everyone’s first, second and third embarrassing tweets viewable by anyone.
The search index includes 100s of billions of tweets growing by several billion more each week. Tweets covering a variety of historical events, including the Arab spring, the Scottish referendum and the London 2012 Olympics are all discoverable.
But included in that huge archive of the world’s important news, thoughts and opinions, it’s now possible to find the inane, the embarrassing and the tweets we hoped had gone forever. Even the drunk ones.
Just as with that old MySpace or Bebo page, perhaps now is the time to give your Twitter timeline a bit of a scrub before someone digs up something you’d rather remained buried.
Take drastic action
There are several options for scrubbing tweets from the internet. The first is the potential overkill of closing your Twitter account entirely. After deactivating a Twitter account, the data remains in Twitter’s archives for 30 days before being permanently deleted.
Logging into the account at any time in the 30-day window will reactivate the account. Before deleting the account, changing the username and email account associated with it can free up the handle to sign up with a fresh account.
Deleting the entire Twitter account is the most thorough way, but will mean all the accounts’ followers will be lost, even if another account with the same username is set up.
Remove your first tweet
If deleting an entire account is a bit extreme, manually deleting tweets is possible, if laborious. Finding your first tweets is now straightforward thanks to the new search engine, but Twitter’s #FirstTweet service is even easier. Repeatedly using it and deleting the associated tweet is a good way to quickly remove your earliest posts.
My first tweet may have been a bit optimistic, but at least Black Mesa was fantastic when it was released in 2012 and it was worth installing Windows on a Mac to play.
Delete specific tweets
Twitter allows users to download an archive of their tweets, which creates an easy-to-browse local file that opens in a web browser and is organised month by month, including a search engine.
Each offline tweet has a link to the live copy on Twitter, meaning incriminating tweets can be quickly found and removed. The same thing can be accomplished via the new advanced search engine, using the “from:username” command to narrow it down to tweets from a particular account, but the archive makes it easier to browse.
Delete whole years of tweets
If deleting specific tweets isn’t enough, but removing the account isn’t an option, then various free third-party services will automatically delete tweets for you.
Web apps such as Tweet Delete allow users to automatically delete tweets after a certain periods – a week, month, year or date. Other services include Tweet Deleter, Twit Wipe, Delete All My Tweets and Tweet Eraser. All of them require logging in with Twitter credentials, which means access to your account and carries a certain amount of risk, depending on how much you trust the service.
Twitter imposes some restrictions on these apps, such as the fact that the tweet count can’t actually be reduced to zero, but these apps will normally get the job done well enough that a quick manual tidy-up will be all that’s required.
Deleting tweets from Twitter doesn’t mean the potential evidence of indiscretion is guaranteed to be gone forever, however, as the US Library of Congress is archiving every tweet sent for official records. Indexing by search engines could still surface caches of the tweets too.
This article was written by Samuel Gibbs, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 19th November 2014 12.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010