A few years ago I decided to run scripts to automatically delete old posts from Facebook and Twitter. If you’ve landed on this page following a link from one of those accounts, this post explains why …
Since the worries about Instagram‘s (owned by Facebook) new Terms of Service I’ve been re-thinking about my historic traceability and the data mining that is most certainly being performed on my online activity.
I’ve made nearly 24k updates on Twitter since 2008 and although the general public can not readily search through those tweets, there are specific systems in place to data mine what I have posted in the past. I’m asking myself – Is there really any need for me to keep tweets that are older than a month?
I don’t need them, my friends don’t need them and they
may will of already been data mined for information, but keeping them just opens further opportunities in the future to snoop on my likes, thoughts and feelings at any time over the last five years.
With Instagram I’ve posted nearly 1.5k photos, the majority of these are “of the moment” and Instagram’s systems are not designed to let me categorise, order, store or archive these pictures. So, again I ask – Is there any point in keeping pictures on the service older than a month? Other than the personal value of looking back over comments and discussions I can’t see a need to keep these stored on their server.
I have no idea how many Facebook posts I’ve made over the years but I can search back through photos and conversations dating back to 2007. Are these still valid? do I need to keep them there? Do I want my children to have access to my thoughts from years past?
Pinterest is a different beast. I get value from viewing my Pinterest feed (from others) and use it to learn about the things I’m interested in. The items that I pin are mainly from other websites, so the content isn’t even mine. However, data mining of my likes and hobbies is still very clearly up for grabs. It’s probably already done at the point of posting, but leaving any information on a server just allows future opportunities. Maybe my Pins should be culled after a year?
Flickr was the first social network I used (apart from Forums) and I currently have 2.5k photos stored. I have always felt that Flickr was different as it is a paid service with a contract in place and is used to archive and catalogue full resolution images rather than just be a one way stream. I’m quite happy to leave my images on flickr for future generations but it is still a worry that any Terms and Conditions can be subject to change.
What should I do next?
I could just delete my accounts, and that’s what many people are doing. I’d love to see some statistics detailing the amount of users that jumped the Instagram ship just after the new terms were announced. Knee jerk reactions are a plenty in the World of Social Media. I tend to favour a less destructive approach by simply making content private and sitting out the storm while the chiefs and solicitors scramble to re-word and re-evaluate in an attempt of damage limitation.
I find value in these networks, I have re-connected with people I thought I’d never see again as well as make amazing new friends and learn about topics that interest me by building new relationships with those in the know. I don’t want a knee jerk reaction – but I do want to consider the options and limit “possible” exposure. Making contacts and learning seems to be “of the now”, and once the contact is made, the old content may not be required?
I have already been through a process on Facebook where I changed my default Privacy settings to “Only Me” and then used the “Limit the Audience for Past Posts” function to make EVERYTHNG private. Then I changed the default Privacy settings for future posts back to “Friends” a far as I can tell, this has made all my old posts private and I have been able to select and open up only the last couple of months of content.
This has not stopped Facebook from being able to view my historic data, but I feel it is a step closer to helping me make the decision of finally deleting old posts and allows me a stage of undo before I choose.
I’m considering deleting my Instagram photos older than a few months and may look at producing an API that will automatic do this cull for me. Ultimately I may decide to leave Instagram and focus on Flickr but I’m not going to make that decision just yet.
The only reason I can see for not deleting old tweets is my tweet count. Is this a consideration for new followers? am I bothered?
Update February 2014: It’s taken a year to decide, but I ran a script to delete ALL my Facebook history. Even with the script running it took ages! I’m not leaving Facebook, just limiting my historic posts. Maybe all social services should have a prune function?
After a year of decision, I ran a script to delete 7 years of my Facebook posts. Here’s why http://t.co/afi2zMYNdb
— Richard Mackney (@richardmackney) February 18, 2014
Update November 2015: I still regularly wipe my Facebook posts and the only one negative effect I have seen is that someone assumed I had blocked them from seeing my account and took offence. I am also now using tweetdelete.net to delete my old tweets. Due to the limitations from twitter this can only delete your last 3,200 tweets, but as twitter only display the last 3,200 tweets this means that the other 30 thousand are not viewable by the public and the tweet count is only reduced by the deleted amount. You can set tweetdelete to keep a set period of tweets, for example it can keep the last month of tweets and constantly delete anything older on a schedule.