We're gearing up for an election here in Ireland, and many are well prepared. For example, just a few days ago, Politwoops Ireland was launched.

Others are not so prepared: many candidates in this election will go back through their twitter time lines and remove those tweets that will inhibit or – at least – not help their re-election campaigns.

I've often wondered why people delete tweets. There are many reasons, and – in my opinion – not all of them are addressed by deleting the tweet, but that's all there is. Perhaps there's a misspelled word that ruins the tweet (as twitter doesn't have an "Edit tweet" option) and you want to do it again1; maybe it's because you replied to the wrong tweet or mentioned the wrong user; maybe it is truly embarrassing and will affect your career or personal relationships; or maybe it's because you're a public figure and you want to reduce the risk of being called out on a contradiction you know you're making.

As I said, there are many possible reasons, and the above is only a set of examples. For public figures, the likes of Politwoops Ireland don't care for the reasons1; it'll just retweet the deleted tweet all the same.

On the 2nd February this year, The Intercept published a note to its readers calling out how a staff reporter had engaged in unethical journalism: faking quotes, faking people for fake quotes, etc. The editors have conducted a review of this journalists posts, and have updated them to highlight the items of concern, going so far as to retract one story in full. What's noteworthy, though, is that The Intercept didn't remove or delete the story.

I believe this is appropriate for a number of reasons. Deleting the story pretends it doesn't exist, but those affected by it will remember it. The best place to note that the story has been retracted is at the same address that the story was published. In the internet world, this is much easier than in the paper world, and anyone looking for (and finding!) the original story will be informed immediately that it has been retracted, and why.

Twitter should have a "Retract tweet" option, just like and beside the "Delete tweet" option. Instead, however, of removing the tweet, it will be marked as having been retracted.

The advantages I see with this include:

  • Everyone who finds the tweet will see straight away that you don't stand over it any more.
  • Readers can be directed to the tweet's conversation where you can take the opportunity to explain why you've retracted it.
  • Those who have replied to it, or to another tweet in the conversation, and those who have retweeted it (and those in conversations from the retweet) can all be informed that the tweet has been retracted, which will prompt them to review it and the reasons offered for the retraction, and to assess the conversations and their contributions to them.
  • Perhaps – and of course I can't make any promises here because I've nothing to do with it – all the Politwoops accounts would respect retractions and not bring them to the attention of their followers. The model here is how the likes of the @congressedits and @oireachtasedit twitter accounts work: when a user from within the networks of these organisations make a change to a Wikipedia page, it will be tweeted if the change is made anonymously, but not otherwise. Similarly, Politwoops should not retweet retracted tweets, which would respect the open approach the politician is taking.

It would be interesting to see what people think.

Footnotes:

1
This is the only reason I've had to delete tweets.