#etiquette is an occasional feature wherein we discuss bits of online etiquette in the news at the time. We’ve rounded up the most salient tips and tidbits from the series here. Further questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Is it okay to delete a bad tweet?
Usually – but it depends. “Social media gurus” (air quotes obligatory!) don’t all agree on this score. They note, rightly, that nothing you delete from Twitter ever disappears entirely — your mistakes live on, zombie-like, in other people’s retweets and screenshots. So there’s often no use deleting something if you’re planning to pretend it didn’t happen. The truth could come out in the end, making you look like a liar and/or idiot.
But deleting something will slow its spread, which can be really important. If @WashingtonPost somehow garbles an important breaking news tweet, someone should probably delete (and correct) that tweet before the misinformation gets around. Likewise, if I accidentally post some compromising photos to Twitter, I don’t want those hanging out in my feed for all eternity. Deletion, followed by a quick “whoops, sorry about that,” would obviously do nothing to sooth my humiliation … but at least I stand a shot of getting the whole thing to disappear.
TL;DR: It’s okay to delete tweets, as long as you’re transparent about it. In fact, since transparency is more or less an essential tenet of the Web, you might want to bring that ethic to everything you do online. (March 10, 2014: “Lena Dunham tweeted an offensive joke, then deleted it. Good call or not?”)
2. Is it okay to embed presumably personal tweets on a very public website?
There are valid arguments on both sides. But ultimately, it isn’t up to us to say whether Twitter’s essential nature is or isn’t public: That’s up to Twitter, a giant company with a very lengthy terms of service and, presumably, entire teams of product managers and business strategists and engineers dedicated to debating this very type of question. Twitter is unequivocal. If your account is not explicitly set to private, it is public. In fact, when you think about it, the whole site is prefaced on this ability to “share,” i.e. “further publicize,” individual messages. In that context, can there really be any realistic expectation of privacy?
Many Twitterati have argued, convincingly, that Twitter shouldn’t operate this way: That there are different conversational contexts on the platform, and that Twitter should reflect that. But until Twitter does reflect that, in its terms of service and its essential interface, it’s a public space. Full stop.
TL;DR: Twitter is a public platform; embed away. The essential problem with all this, really, is that we all sometimes forget how painfully public the Internet is.