Twitter pauses plan to delete inactive accounts until it can memorialize dead users

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Twitter is backtracking on a plan to cleanup inactive accounts until it has a way to memorialize those belonging to the deceased.

The company put inactive accounts on notice Tuesday, warning users who haven’t logged in for at least six months that their accounts could soon be deleted.

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The plan was halted less than a day later, after concerns were raised by users that the clean-up effort would inadvertently rid the platform of accounts of people who have died.

“We’ve heard you on the impact that this would have on the accounts of the deceased. This was a miss on our part,” the company tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

“We will not be removing any inactive accounts until we create a new way for people to memorialize accounts.”

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Facebook, unlike Twitter, has a way to memorialize users after they die. Twitter gave no timeline on when a function like this would be implemented.

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Under Twitter’s current inactive accounts policy, users must log in at least every six months; otherwise, the account could be rendered inactive and “permanently removed.” Twitter notes that “not all signs of account activity are publicly visible” but said the account must meet the six-month requirement to be effectively scrubbed from the platform.

The account removal process was set to begin in December and would ultimately free up usernames.

While it’s not entirely clear how many will get axed, Twitter confirmed the “first batch” to go will be those registered in the European Union.

“This impacts accounts in the EU only, for now,” Twitter Support tweeted. “We’re starting with the EU in part due to local privacy regulations.”

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The policy could expand, however, the company said.

“We may broaden the enforcement of our inactivity policy to comply with other regulations around the world and to ensure the integrity of the service,” they tweeted.

Once it begins, it won’t be a “delete-all” scenario for accounts deemed inactive. The handles will be deactivated gradually and not all at once, Twitter says.

The effort won’t impact those who spend time on their account but don’t tweet much or at all.

For now, inactive accounts aren’t going anywhere.

“We apologize for the confusion and concerns we caused and will keep you posted,” the company said.

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Twitter says it “periodically” removes certain pages, “albeit for different reasons than inactive accounts.”

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A network of hundreds of accounts — suspected of being bots — was shut down in 2018 for tweeting and retweeting pro-Saudi government tweets regarding the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Twitter also removed nearly 1,000 accounts and suspended thousands of others tied to a campaign by the Chinese government to undermine ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Back in September, more than 10,000 accounts were deleted after Twitter deemed they were actively spreading misinformation. The data is available here.

Recently, Twitter introduced a ban on political advertising ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election and amid growing pressure on social media companies to stop accepting ads that spread disinformation.

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