Until recently, this was pretty much a ‘case-closed’ affair for me. Unless you never, ever, ever want to use Twitter, ever again, like EVER, or you’re an incurable attention-seeker who’s been histrionically threatening to “leave Twitter” for twelve months and now kind of needs to put his Deactivate button where his mouth is, you should not delete a Twitter account.
But within the past week or so, someone I met online expressed to me that in his view, a Twitter account that isn’t being used should be deleted. He’s not an attention-seeker, and he doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to Twitter when choosing to close an account, so his comments did set me thinking about the range of different opinions that might be out there. I started to look more deeply into whether or not letting a disused account go might make sense.
However, even after contemplation, I was unable to make a case for deleting a disused Twitter account. It’s true that there are reasons one might want to do it apart from simply loathing the site beyond comprehension or attention-seeking yourself into a corner, but for me, the list of reasons against deleting easily outweighed the list of reasons for. I’m going to outline my case against, but first, what even is “disused”?
WHAT IS DISUSED?
Is a Twitter account disused if you don’t log in for one day? Two days? A week? A month? A year? Where’s the line? This is a problem even before you start to look at the reasons why a disused account should or shouldn’t stay online. What’s the difference between abandoning a Twitter account to feasibly return in six weeks, and abandoning it to feasibly return in a year? There really is no difference, because you’re still going to have to go through the same processes whatever the interim timescale.
And even if you never, ever intend to use Twitter again, there are still some reasons why deleting would not be a logical step. Here’s my full, twelve-point case for leaving a disused Twitter account online…
You’ve almost certainly put content onto Twitter. Even if it’s just a few sarcastic remarks about your boss’s taste in kitchenwear, they’re your sarcastic remarks, and they might mean something to someone in future. Take the account down, and all your content goes with it.
Twitter content is special because it’s inseparably tied to a date. This is obviously important for historical reasons. Twitter is a fantastically reliable resource for recent historical research, because Tweets cannot be edited. If you see a tweet dated 8th March 2013, then that is exactly what the user posted, at that exact time. The poster can’t have been back and inserted a different photo, or changed the text.
So if you said something before anyone else on Twitter said it, Twitter will always reference you as the originator.
Let’s assume, then, that you delete your Twitter account, but other people have copied some of your tweets… What happens? Someone else becomes the originator. In deleting your account, you’ve not only deleted your contributions to the history of the Internet – you’ve also deleted your evidence that you were the one who first made those contributions.
2: YOU DON’T NEED TO DO IT
Why do anything you don’t need to do? And why expend the effort rebuilding something you never needed to destroy in the first place? With the exception of potentially losing a username, as detailed in the final section of this post, there’s no penalty for retaining a Twitter account you don’t use. Scientifically and logically, it’s more effort to delete than not to delete. Not deleting is therefore the logical default.
Yep, you lose them. All of them. And however pointless you feel it is having them, you can bet that if you decide to start again, from scratch, you’ll want them back – even if only for the sake of the number on your profile page. People don’t normally get Twitter followers without an investment of some sort. So if you delete an account, you’re really throwing an investment in the bin. 50,000 followers or 50. It makes no difference. It’s still the return on an investment. Throw that return away, and congratulations – you’ve worked for nothing.
And in a less selfish vein, your followers lose you too. Is it fair on them, after they’ve followed you, to dump them all and then give them the task of re-finding you if and when you return to the site?
Remember that hilarious dude who used to constantly change his name? Yep. Can you find him? Nope. He’s changed his name again, obviously. Probably several times. So, much as you’d like to refollow that funny guy with your new Twitter, you’ve lost him.
One of the reasons I regret deleting my own first Twitter account (yes, I’ve made the mistake myself) is that I simply couldn’t retrace several of the people I used to follow. It is possible to trace username changes, but often on Twitter, the usernames combine cryptic words and numbers in a way we don’t well assimilate, so it’s the account names that we recall. Account names are much, much more difficult to track. So if the account name has changed, or if you can’t remember what it was, you may well never find that person again. The easy solution is simply not to delete your account. That way, unless they have themselves done a bunk, all the people you followed are still there when you return.
5: LIKES, RETWEETS, REPLIES, ETC
If someone has Retweeted you, your account is now part of their Twitter experience too. The same applies if they’ve Liked your tweets, Replied to you, Listed you, etc… In removing your account, you change the whole landscape around it, and you break conversations, frustrating users who pick them up from the reply side but are unable to make sense of them with pieces missing.
Twitter has a less well-recognised use as an ownership tool. The platform has overwhelmingly high status with Google, so when someone web-searches your name, it’s very often a Twitter account that leads the results. You want that Twitter account to be yours – not someone else’s. If it’s yours, you can link to and reference your other online presences, so that whether or not those presences happen to appear in the prominent search results, people can find them. You can use both the bio section and a Pinned Tweet to provide information and/or links on an inactive Twitter account. Hence, the people Google refers to your inactive Twitter, your inactive Twitter can refer to you.
But if you delete your Twitter, and someone else online has the same name as you, Google will inevitably list that other someone’s account. If you know a little about the importance of ranking in the search results, allowing another individual to take your Google space (a space for which businesses often pay £thousands), just because you chose to delete a Twitter account, should strike you as madness.
Ownership also works in reverse. You can link to your Twitter from various online projects, verifying beyond doubt that the specified Twitter account is yours. This not only debases attempts by other individuals to claim, on Twitter, that they own your projects – it also discourages them from trying in the first place.
This brings us to the hingepin of reverse ownership: your username. If you delete your Twitter account, you potentially lose that username. For example, if I delete the account @Twirpz, which is the first-past-the-post Twitter handle for this blog, I risk someone else becoming @Twirpz, and then I have to think about becoming @Twirpz1, @_Twirpz, or something equally second-past-the-post in nature. It looks like I’m a “runner-up”.
This is by far the most compelling reason NOT to delete an unused Twitter account. If you’ve become established with a particular username, with which people have come to associate you, any transfer of that username to an imposter puts your reputation into their hands. Armed with your username, and the knowledge that you are no longer present on the site, an unscrupulous or malcious user can exploit your identity for all sorts of unthinkable purposes – with serious credibility.
You should also know that Twitter will not intervene based on a simple report of impersonation. Twitter will want proof, from you, that the identity being misused is officially yours (which means you’ll have to produce identification), and if the name you used on Twitter was only an alias, you are, in a word, stuffed. This is one of the reasons that WordPress – the platform on which you’re reading this post – NEVER deletes accounts (or permits them to be deleted), and NEVER recycles blog names. On WordPress, NO ONE can adopt a previously used username or blog URL, and if you consider the potential consequences, that does make sense. What you’re doing in holding onto a disused Twitter account, is providing your online identity with that same level of protection.
9: CONNECTED STUFF
It’s easy to forget that Twitter does not always work in isolation. You may, for example, have created widgets and integrated them into other projects. Any such projects will cease to function properly as soon as you delete your Twitter. Equally, you may have connected apps which have built an association with, and/or a dependency on, a specific Twitter account. If you used an email address to register with an app, and that email address relates directly to one Twitter account, which you’ve deleted, you may need to re-register with the app, which means providing another email address. If you used lots of apps, and you provided a range of different email addresses, it’s going to get complicated.
10: OLD IS GOLD
This is another reason that’s more important than it may initially seem. Longer established online pages inherently carry more authority than new ones. So if you delete and then freshly open a Twitter account, you’re really replacing greater authority with lesser authority. Search engines will naturally prioritise older above newer with all else like for like, and the fact that older pages tend to have built up more links and connections compounds that inevitability.
It has to be remembered that Twitter is a network of links, just like most other websites. When someone tweets you, they create a link to your page. And the more of these links there are (i.e the more tweets people have sent to you), the higher the status/authority of your account rises in the search engines. When you delete a Twitter account, then unless you can recover your old username, you’ll lose all of these links, reducing the authority of your page – perhaps dramatically. And worse, if someone else does cut in and take your username, THEY will get the benefit of all the links that YOUR hard work previously generated. Yep, it sucks, doesn’t it?
11: YOU CAN’T LOG IN
We probably don’t like to admit it, but we’re all pretty nosey when it comes down to it. I wonder who’s following my personal trainer on Twitter? I can’t find out because I’ve deleted my account, and unless I have an account, I can’t look at follow lists. There are lots of things you can’t do with Twitter unless you have a login, and if you don’t have an account, you don’t have a login. You never know when you’ll want or need the facility to log in.
Anything can happen on the Internet. What if Twitter suddenly decided to implement new, less favourable conditions, but only for accounts set up after a certain date? Will it? No one knows. That’s the thing. No one knows what the future holds. You can walk out of a relationship, and the next day, your ex-partner wins the lottery. Twitter is very much an open relationship. No one is saying “commit to posting every day or leave”. So why leave?
WHAT IS TWITTER’S VIEW ON THIS?
Of course, what Twitter wants in an ideal world, is for everyone who has an account to use it. But when users go inactive, what’s the official line?
Well, Twitter does have a clause stating that if your account lies dormant for a period of longer than six months, the site reserves the right to “permanently remove” it. However, in practice accounts are not interfered with unless another user lays claim to the username. Check the account depicted at the top of the post – no tweets for approaching a decade.
Twitter states that it doesn’t generally consider username transfers based on inactivity alone, so any claimant would have to demonstrate good grounds for ‘adoption’.
The headline advice is: if you want to keep your account and username, log in and tweet at least once every six months – and don’t pick a username that’s already a registered trademark, because Twitter will probably hand it over to the trademark owner on demand. But if you’ve set up the account for legitimate purposes, used it in a meaningful way and built a following (in other words, you haven’t just set out to impound usernames), then even after six months of inactivity I suspect Twitter would view any kind of intervention with great reluctance.
Remember, Twitter has to consider followers and site explorers as well as account holders. If you’ve posted valid content which your followers have Retweeted, Liked, and may wish to reference in future, or which is important to the site, it’s highly unlikely that Twitter would want to disrupt the community experience by disabling your account on the basis of inactivity. It is discretionary, obviously, but discretion will fall on the side of the site, so if your account benefits the site and the community, it won’t be going anywhere.