Twitter’s decision to remove accounts which had been inactive for six months or more sounded good in theory. It would free up a bunch of user names and, in theory, make Twitter more transparent by showing only information (such as follower count) that reflected current active users.
In theory. Soon after Twitter revealed the new policy this week, people raised concerns about what this would mean for users who had passed away. Why does this matter? There’s a very good reason.
In a world in which an increasing amount of our identity is online, Twitter represents an archive of people’s thoughts and words over time. In the event that the person is no longer alive — and therefore can’t use the service — that doesn’t mean it’s not of interest to others.
In a tweet, Twitter acknowledged that it needed to come up with a solution to this problem. It has since said that it will not get rid of any user accounts until it’s created a way for “people to memorialize accounts.”
We’ve heard you on the impact that this would have on the accounts of the deceased. This was a miss on our part. We will not be removing any inactive accounts until we create a new way for people to memorialize accounts.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) November 27, 2019
In addition, Twitter noted that these changes will initially impact only those in the European Union. This is as a result of the EU’s stringent GDPR data protection regulations.
The problem with inactive Twitter accounts
Twitter isn’t the only company to run into this challenge regarding deceased users. Both Facebook and Google have experienced the same thing. Both have come up with ways to allow users who are no longer around to be archived or memorialized.
Apple has also had its share of challenges in this area. For instance, several years ago a father wrote to Tim Cook begging him to unlock his dead 13-year-old son’s iPhone. This was so that he could retrieve photos stored on it. In that instance, Apple’s technical staff expressed sympathy, but said there was nothing they were able to do.
These are big challenges — and there’s no easy solution to them. In Twitter’s case, it wasn’t an active attempt to purge accounts belonging to deceased users. Rather, it was an attempt to streamline the service and solve other problems that exist with it.
Still, kudos for Twitter to listening to concerns and acting upon them quickly. Even if we have yet to see what it will roll out in terms of a memorialization service.