Another day, another Twitter controversy courtesy of Elon Musk. On Monday, the owner of Twitter triggered complaints after announcing that inactive accounts would be purged. In his tweet, Musk said that the site is "purging accounts that have had no activity at all for several years, so you will probably see follower count drop."
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The tweet quickly led to questions and comments from Twitter users worried about the new policy. In one response, well-known computer programmer and video game developer John Carmack asked Musk to reconsider deleting inactive accounts and their historic tweets, saying that removing the output of inactive tweets would be terrible.
"Some may scoff at any allusion between Twitter and ancient libraries, but 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," Carmack said.
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Carmack's comment caught the attention of Musk, who tweeted back that the inactive accounts would be archived. But the Twitter owner didn't say how or where these archived accounts would live or how they would be accessible.
Why purge inactive accounts in the first place? Musk answered that question in another response by saying that it's important to free up abandoned handles. But if that's the reason, then Twitter and its users face another dilemma, and one illustrated by Carmack in yet another response.
"However, tossing old names back into the free pool just starts another land grab," Carmack said. "People camping on hundreds of freely claimed usernames has always been one of the scummier aspects of the internet. Maybe require buying at least one month of Twitter Blue if you want to claim an inactive username."
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Twitter is also home to accounts from people who have passed away or otherwise left the service as well as to temporary accounts set up to document important events or information. These accounts serve as a type of public record that should not only be preserved but remain easily available. If the handles for the purged and archived accounts are freed up for new users, how would people still be able to access them?
Some Twitter users have already chimed in to express concern about the purging of such accounts, especially from people who are no longer alive.
"Very good idea," said one user. "But my father died and I still read his account daily. Please keep him active."
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Another said: "Please don't delete accounts of people who have passed on…it's an important memory for many of us who have lost family who were active."
Still another tweeted: "This will include several people who are no more but their words and interactions still remain as a fond memory to their friends/family. Don't do this."
How would this purge work, and how can Twitter users protect their own accounts? Twitter's own Inactive account policy states that you need to log in at least every 30 days to keep your account active. Prolonged inactivity may result in an account being permanently removed. That may be easy enough for people who are still around. But it poses a problem for account holders who are no longer with us.
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Of course, Musk will often tweet proposed changes to Twitter policy that may or may not become official. And even before Musk took hold of the reins, Twitter floated the idea of purging old accounts. In 2019, the company announced such a move but quickly pulled back following complains from users. At the time, Twitter said it would not remove any inactive accounts until it created a new way for people to memorialize accounts.
In the meantime, Twitter users who have control over an inactive account can download an archive of its tweets. To do this, sign into Twitter on your PC or mobile device. Click More and then go to Settings and Support > Settings and Privacy > Your account > Download an archive of your data. Confirm your account and then click the button for Request archive. You'll be notified when a ZIP file of your archive is ready for you to download.