In the couple weeks following Marvel Studios’ firing of James Gunn from his role as director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, there have been several high-profile individuals who have decided the time is right to go and delete their entire Twitter history. After all, if a bunch of decade-old Tweets, which he’s repeatedly addressed and apologized for over the years, could take down Gunn, they could take down anyone. Better to wipe the slate clean and offer no targets of opportunity for anyone to take advantage of. A few media outlets have even published “here’s how” guides for deleting all or some of your past updates.
Putting aside the idea that we’ve apparently conceded that alt-right Nazis are a defacto part of every company’s HR department, the idea doesn’t sit well with me.
Since the advent of social publishing – before social networks, when blogs were the primary platform for self-expression – there’s been warnings that what you publish could come back to haunt you. Young people with less sound judgement about what is or isn’t a good idea to post have particularly been given this guidance. Especially as corporations became more savvy online, they were told that Facebook photo of them doing keg stands while wearing nothing but a tube sock probably wasn’t a great idea and could impact their job prospects down the road.
I know there are things in my Twitter history that were ill-advised. There are some updates I’ve deleted within minutes or hours of posting them because hey, that was just a bad idea. But I have zero interest in removing them en masse.
That history is what it is. If someone would like to take issue with one or another, I’m happy to have that conversation.
From my perspective, deleting all your old tweets isn’t just cleaning house or removing bullets of the gun being pointed at you, it’s acknowledging that the gun is legitimate in the first place.
Someone pointed out (on Twitter, of course) that old tweets or other posts being considered a problem because they’re too “edgy” is kind of hilarious given that the advice given to everyone early on was to edgy and unique, to push boundaries and stand out as a way to build your personal brand. That was just the kind of thing that signalled a creative mind and would serve you well, everyone was told, so go for it.
Now thing are very different and we want everyone to be nice. But it’s not coming from a place of wishing to not offend, it’s coming from a place of wishing to stifle speech.
It’s not just the alt-right nutbars that have adopted this approach. As media has become more centralized in fewer hands, the odds that you’ve said something negative (real or perceived) about the practices of a particular company have skyrocketed. A number of freelancers have shared stories in recent years about how they’ve been rejected after editors cite tweets from years ago about a particular media brand that called them out for one reason or another. In some cases, it’s before the outlet was owned by that particular company. With so many media organizations folding – or being folded by private equity owners that have stripmined them for short-term revenue – saying anything about anyone can be a career-limiting move.
While I’ve certainly checked myself on a few occasions for that very reason, I don’t believe that criticism is inherently disqualifying. That’s true of the past and the present.
You want to come at me with a tweet? You’ll need more than that, and the very first thing I’ll do is call out whatever motivations you have for doing so. If there are real issues, we can discuss them. But I won’t be taking the broom to the whole archive anytime soon, not based on the threat of someone with an active interest in keeping me from speaking up.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.