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A Vague Twitter Policy About Deactivating Inactive Accounts Sparked a Panic

Twitter says accounts left inactive for more than six months will be deactivated—including tweets from deceased users.

by Samantha Cole
Nov 27 2019, 6:50pm

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This week, Twitter announced a new policy that warns accounts that haven’t shown activity in more than six months may be permanently deactivated.

"We encourage people to actively log in and use Twitter when they register an account," the policy states. "To keep your account active, be sure to log in and Tweet at least every 6 months. Accounts may be permanently removed due to prolonged inactivity."

At first blush, it seems like this policy would stop people from squatting on good usernames, like @bathroom, which tweeted once in 2007 and then seemingly logged off forever. But Twitter has said that this isn't the reason it's enacting this policy. Simply, it wants people to get back on its website.

"We're working to clean up inactive accounts to present more accurate, credible information people can trust across Twitter," a spokesperson told CNN Business. "Part of this effort is encouraging people to actively log in." As reported by the Verge, Twitter said in an email that users should log in by December 11. However, Twitter hasn't released any timeline for potential removals and told CNN that they could take place over "many months."

As a result of this policy change, people who have deceased loved ones who've left behind Twitter accounts are panicking over the possibility that they could lose those posts forever.

Fans of K-pop star Kim Jong-hyun, who died in 2017, are begging Twitter not to delete his account.

The sister of comedian Harris Wittels, who died in 2015, logged into his account to keep it active:

And archivist Jason Scott set up a form for people who want to archive their deceased loved ones' accounts:

If the new policy was designed to encourage people to come back to the site, it's working. A search of "inactive account" reveals lots of users tweeting just to show they're active. The policy states, however, that if you're using the account but not tweeting, you could still be considered "active."

"There are serious side-effects to removal of inactive accounts. Especially in regards to accounts by deceased friends," Luca Hammer, a data analyst developing tools to analyze Twitter accounts, told Motherboard. "Many people visit those accounts to remember the dead. It can be compared to a cemetery where gravestones are removed after six months."

Instead of deactivating those accounts, Hammer suggests Twitter archive accounts, change the usernames, and make them read-only.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter doesn't have an option for turning a dead user's account into a memorial page to prevent it from being hacked or misused as it sits dormant. There are steps Twitter users can take to report a user as deceased, but the policy is explicitly for immediate family of the deceased or an estate holder, and it deactivates the account entirely. "We do not currently have a way to memorialize someone’s Twitter account once they have passed on, but the team is thinking about ways to do this,” a Twitter spokesperson said.

But all of this worry could be for nothing. Hammer said it's a possibility that Twitter won’t follow through on what users are most concerned about.

"We don't know exactly if and how Twitter will remove accounts," he said, mentioning the reports from Twitter in 2010 that old usernames would be made available—and then never were. "There is a possibility that it won't happen this time either, but that it will motivate users to login again and some of them will get hooked again."

The uncertainty around the new policy shows how Twitter, like many big social media platforms, is constantly screwing over the people who help to make the site successful: it ignores pleas from users to ban Nazis and improve harassment tools, and instead sets to futzing around with the shape of the like button and the feed algorithm; it deletes sex workers' accounts; and it's now rushing out this vague, needless policy, and sparking a panic to keep people hooked on tweeting.

Twitter moves to make money, instead of a better community, because at the end of the day it's a profit-driven Silicon Valley company, not your friend.

Drew Olanoff, a former TechCrunch journalist whose father died in 2015 and left behind a charmingly dad-joke filled account, eloquently put this sentiment to words: "When humans use the things you build and you stop treating them like humans, but rather like bits and bytes and revenue dollars, you’ve given your soul away," Olanoff wrote. "And maybe it’s just me getting older, but I’ve had about enough of it."