Twitter has just made every public Tweet made since the inception of Twitter available through its search engine. The Guardian has suggested several approaches to scrubbing potentially embarrassing Tweets from being found through this search engine. The approaches range from deleting a single Tweet to closing your entire Twitter account.
The consequences to not exercising discretion in sharing information (or allowing others to share it) on social media can be serious. College admissions officers commonly use social networks to find out more about their applicants. Employees at fast food restaurants have lost their jobs. A young woman named Alicia Ann Lynch even received rape and death threats for an insensitive Tweet.
The Guardian correctly cautions that deleting Tweets using one or more of the approaches may not remove all traces of them due to search engine caches and the Library of Congress’s archive. Allow me to add one more to the list: The Wayback Machine. Try pasting the link to the Twitter page of someone with a lot of followers into the “Browse History” box, pick a date, and you’ve essentially traveled back in time. Aside from web archivers, there is also no telling how many people could have reposted your Tweet elsewhere on the Web; it’s not necessarily limited to just Twitter either!
Think about what you post before you actually post it; once it’s out there, it may be difficult or impossible to erase. I’ve given the same advice before, but in light of recent developments, I think it’s worth repeating. Cleaning up after the fact is only a last resort. If you have to do this, you’ve made a mistake already.