Elon Musk Says Twitter Will Delete Old Accounts, And That Could Be A Problem

Thousands of older Twitter accounts may soon disappear as Elon Musk wheels out yet another controversial change to his social media platform. Musk has made a number of bold decisions since taking over the microblogging site toward the end of 2022. Some of those decisions have had unintended consequences and subsequently backfired on the billionaire. The most well-known change, which had some of the biggest teething problems, was the removal of legacy blue checkmarks and the switch to a pay-for-verification system. The initial relaunch of Twitter Blue led to chaos, with trolls posing as prominent businesses, celebrities, and politicians.

Now, Musk is seemingly set on implementing another of his proposed policies — and many are predicting that this will also have unintended consequences. Musk first suggested inactive accounts would be removed from the platform in November 2022, not long after he bought Twitter. Now it seems the purge is happening, with Musk warning users that they're likely to see their follower count drop. 

There are certainly benefits to the policy. Many desirable usernames will undoubtedly be freed up and could then be taken by active users. But the downsides might outweigh any positives quite significantly. A key downside may again relate to impersonation. As older accounts are deleted, someone could theoretically claim the handle of a well-known but no longer active user and then pretend to be them. This is just one possible issue, though, and some others are a bit more personal than that.

Memorial pages might be taken down

The deletion of older accounts may pose an issue when it comes to memorial pages. Family and friends of deceased people whose social media pages have been left up as a tribute to them are already expressing concern about what may happen to these accounts during Musk's purge. 

Currently, Twitter's Help Center only has a section on having the account of a deceased individual taken down. There is no way to flag an account as a memorial page, or otherwise ask for it to be kept active. Another issue is the lack of transparency on what constitutes an "active" account, and what may have to be done to keep certain accounts going. Twitter's terms of use suggest that logging into an account at least once every 30 days qualifies it as active. However, Musk has suggested that accounts that aren't actively tweeting will be on the chopping block. The potential policy seems to stem from his spat with NPR, which stopped interacting with the platform after it was labeled as "State-affiliated media" — a designation usually given to outlets that essentially serve as propaganda departments for the governments of Russia, China, and similar nations.

Like many of Musk's policies, there is a knock-on effect. This may put people who have their dead relative's passwords in an awkward position. They could have the option of tweeting, potentially confusing people or desecrating the account in some way. Alternatively, they can leave it alone and risk its deletion.

Worse than the burning of the Library of Alexandria

When an account is deleted, so are its tweets. This, to many, is a bit of a tragedy. Older threads, some of which contained important discussions, may no longer be readable as a vast amount of that content will be missing if it contains contributions from accounts that weren't active. Some big names in the tech world have voiced their opposition to this, including gaming legend John Carmack. The "Doom" creator pointed to the loss of thousands of scrolls when the Great Library of Alexandria was burned by Julius Caesar. Carmack says: "While the burning of the library of Alexandria was a tragedy, scrolls and books that were tossed in the trash just because nobody wanted to keep them are kind of worse."

He goes on to suggest some possible solutions which could save older tweets — including renaming old accounts instead of simply deleting them. However, it may be a resource issue forcing Twitter to take the easy route on this. Simply deleting users is far easier than changing names, selecting particular accounts to spare, or otherwise archiving older interactions. Given the mass layoffs that have taken place since Musk took the helm — and other issues the platform is experiencing – it's unlikely Twitter will put extra effort into preserving older tweets even if influential figures like John Carmack are appealing for it to do so.