August 6, 2018

Why 2 decided to delete: 'It's a repository of your stupidest days.'

He had a choice. How many tweets did he want to delete?

Journalist Joel Mathis went the whole way last week. “I atom-bombed it,” said the Kansas-based freelancer, who contributes to The Week and Public Radio International.

Mathis knocked out all his old tweets just before another journalist, new New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong, saw her old tweets examined by the world.

For journalists such as Mathis and The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser, whose article on deleting her tweets inspired Mathis, the removal of their Twitter histories just makes sense.

Before he made the decision to delete, Mathis had tweeted on the fate of two baseball players roasted on social media for tweets they made years earlier. Mathis said any player represented by an agent should have had their social media accounts combed and any immature posts deleted.

Then he thought of his own situation. Nothing racist in his Twitter history, but he was struck by one incongruity: Some of his best digital journalism has been lost or hidden with site redesigns, “but that stupid joke I made about Donald Trump five years ago still survives.”

Deleting old tweets might be a job-saver as the pro-Trump internet targets journalists and celebrities such as James Gunn, Trevor Noah and Patton Oswalt. (She and Mathis used the free TweetDelete service; for other possibilities, she suggests this guide from The Verge. She and Mathis also used TweetDelete to pick a time when their new tweets disappear from view, say after two months.)

Mathis says the hunt for ill-thought tweets could capture journalists whose earlier workplaces may have encouraged a sassier style than that of the more mainstream publications to which these journalists gravitated.

Ohlheiser has cautioned that the move to delete may not erase some tweets captured by spotty archives or saved screenshots. "Once you’ve posted something online, you can’t un-post it," Ohlheiser says via email. "But you can remove it from Twitter’s easily searchable and linkable database."

Another option is deleting your Twitter account entirely or deactivating it, which Mathis has done several times.

Mathis acknowledges his split feelings for the service, as did Maggie Haberman, who went on a highly publicized Twitter diet. It’s a necessary news-gathering tool, Mathis concedes. “On the other hand, it’s too addictive and can prompt knee-jerk reactions rather than thoughtful contemplation,” he says.

One thing Twitter never should have been is a gotcha machine for partisan mobs, Mathis says.

“Twitter was designed to be ephemeral,” Mathis says, “and instead it has become a repository of our stupidest days.”

Readers, have you systematically deleted your old social media accounts or dropped Facebook or Twitter? If so, what prompted you to do it? Let me know at

Quick hits

NOT ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE: Former President George H. W. Bush writes to retiring AP journalist Mike Graczyk that he always has respected the reporter's professionalism and "the innate sense of fairness" Graczyk showed. Here's Bush's letter: (h/t Chris Connell)

Bush letter saluting retiring journalist

CONGRATULATIONS, INDIRA: Poynter’s Indira Lakshmanan is headed to the Washington-based Pulitzer Center as executive editor of the nonprofit, which supports international reporting. Lakshmanan, a veteran of The Boston Globe and Bloomberg, was the the Newmark chair in journalism ethics at the Poynter Institute.

DON'T PLAY TRUMP'S GAME: Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank says the media, by fighting back on Trump's "enemy of the people" condemnations, is amplifying the president. Stick to reporting on the policy and the misstatements, Milbank advises. "We’re playing into Trump’s larger purpose, and his likely 2020 theme: Any news that is unfavorable to him is fake," Milbank says.

HALF A LOAF: That's what American newspaper publishers got from the U.S. government on their pleas to end a tariff on Canadian newsprint that is being blamed for layoffs and losses. The Commerce Department reduced tariffs as high as 22 percent to a peak of 16 percent, but also made the tariffs permanent, Mark Weiner reports. Publishers and Democratic leaders said they would lobby to reduce the tariffs further.

DOWN AT UPWORTHY: The "do-good" site laid off 31 people and its editor, Liz Heron, quit. So did CEO Charlie Wilkie. Its cofounder, Eli Pariser, left the board. Nieman Labs asks why.

NO BRAINER: A high-level attendee at the NABJ's annual convention in Detroit was new news publisher Chance The Rapper. He attended sessions on solutions journalism and heard Tyler Perry talk about entrepreneurship on Friday, reports the Knight Foundation's Karen Rundlet.

The rapper purchased the shuttered news site the Chicagoist last month and promised a home for new voices in media.

WEEKEND PASSING: H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest died this weekend. He amassed a fortune via cable TV, allowing him and his wife to become significant philanthropists who supported an array of artistic, media and academic endeavors. He was the recipient of Poynter's 2016 Distinguished Service to Journalism Award

WHOA, PARDNER: Texas Monthly is running a test to stop people using ad-blockers. By Joseph Lichterman.

What we’re reading

DON’T DEFINE YOURSELF BY YOUR JOB: That’s among advice to people who’ve been laid off from people who’ve been there. One other thought from Monica Torres’ story: Hit the gym each morning instead of sleeping late and feeling sorry for yourself.

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