Last week, the day before I started my new job, I deleted more than 40,000 old tweets. This action came after some days of soul-searching, and then a bit of research on GitHub. I feel very glad that I did it, in the way one feels glad after a thorough cleaning of one’s work-space.

After using Twitter’s own tools to download an archive of everything I’d ever posted to the system, I ran the program delete-tweets by Koen Rouwhorst, which takes that archive’s main data-file as input. A few hours later, it had finished scrubbing my account clean of every tweet with few-to-no likes or retweets, reaching all the way back to April 2008. It left only a couple of thousand tweets behind.

Because it does use a locally downloaded archive as input, Rouwhorst’s program works as a simple, one-off solution for a Twitter-account cleanup. I looked into following up with Micah Lee’s semiphemeral, designed to run on a regular basis, burning up stale Twitter interactions on a rolling schedule. It can also un-like every tweet you’ve ever liked, which appealed to me. But, it has a lengthy startup procedure of its own—including, apparently, the necessity of re-liking every tweet you’ve liked before it can un-like it, which runs the risk of sending thousands of spammy notifications. So, I decided to stick with the single sweep-through of delete-tweets, paired with the less frequent, more mindful tweeting habit I started practicing earlier this month. I can always run that script again every so often manually, now that I know how.

The weekend before I reported to work for the first time, I soaked in a rich stew of mixed emotions—as I imagine most anyone in my situation would. Some of it stemmed from my departing the full-time freelance life for the first time in well over a decade, exchanging it for a new career in a practice for which I’d never before collected a salary.

But some of my uncertainty had an even more specific source. I still felt rattled by the John Roderick incident, and I had witnessed several other people since then lose their jobs by making misconstruable tweets in our permanent dry-tinder political climate.

One example: the writer Wil Wilkinson grimly joked about President Biden’s calls for unity only days after Capitol rioters had called for Mike Pence to be hung. Right-wing agents swiftly reframed the ambiguously worded tweet as Wilkinson himself demanding a lynching, and the organization he worked for immediately fired him.

And another: The New York Times fired editor Lauren Wolfe after she tweeted having “chills” watching the new president’s plane land. Given this lightweight but arguable faux pas for a news reporter, right-wingers once again wasted no time in seizing upon and expanding it into evidence of an anti-Republican conspiracy, and an embarrassment to the Times.

Preparing to begin my first full-time job since the start of the social-media era, I came to realize how this fact alone frightened me a little. Nervousness about starting a new professional venture is one thing; feeling personally exposed, vulnerable, and unsafe because of it is quite another.

So that’s why I did what I did, and doing it immediately brought a sense of great relief. Whatever the unlikelihood that a misguided mob or individual malefactor might target me sometime in the future, I felt more secure in the knowledge that I had vastly reduced the acreage of forgotten social-media posts that someone could potentially extract from context and use against me, my colleagues, or my family.

As a fun side-effect, the 2,000 or so tweets that survived this torching all stand among my better “work” on Twitter, and I have had some fun scrolling through them. I doubt I’d ever have seen any again, had I not burned away all the lesser tweets surrounding and obscuring them.

And before I ran the script, as a just-in-case measure, I preserved the two tweets I recalled as achieving anything like virality. Just for fun, they bookend this blog post. They are much further apart in both popularity and timestamp than I had remembered, and I doubt I’ll ever again write another tweet that will crack the 1,000-like barrier.

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