In general, experts say, it’s not the best move
The tweets may be scrubbed, but the internet never forgets.
President Trump deleted a handful of tweets Tuesday night in support of GOP establishment-backed incumbent “Big Luther” Strange, who lost Alabama’s Senate primary runoff to State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. (In one, POTUS said Strange had been “shooting up in the Alabama polls since my endorsement.”) Trump’s erasures — archived by ProPublica and immortalized in news headlines — raised a red flag with the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility in Washington, which claims his deleting tweets violates the Presidential Records Act.
Plenty of other public figures and brands have scrambled to cover up social media faux pas with varying degrees of success: Former White House comms director Anthony Scaramucci purged pro-gun control, pro-marriage equality, pro-Hillary Clinton and anti-Trump tweets after scoring what would ultimately be an 11-day stint in the administration; he acknowledged the deletions and insisted “past views evolved & shouldn’t be a distraction.” Steve Martin deleted a tweet eulogizing Carrie Fisher after many critics deemed it sexist for focusing on her looks. The McDonald’s corporate account deep-sixed an insulting tweet about Trump, blaming a hacker.
Expunging old, contradictory or embarrassing tweets can be tempting, especially when you think nobody’s watching. But when is removal warranted or appropriate? The short answer, according to experts: very rarely.
Technical errors. “I feel that given Twitter’s lack of an edit button, there is some wiggle room — but in my opinion, that’s in the seconds or minutes immediately after publishing a tweet, only to fix spelling errors or to fix autocorrect mishaps,” social media expert Liz Gross told Moneyish. An incorrect link might also justify deletion, added digital media consultant Amy Vernon.
Offensive content. Having tweeted something offensive, insulting or inappropriate could be valid grounds for deletion, said social media strategist Lina Duque, especially if you don’t want people to keep rediscovering and retweeting it. In that case, “own it and let people know you were in the wrong — honesty says a lot about your character,” career coach and attorney Wendi Weiner told Moneyish in an email. “We are all human. We all make mistakes. Owning up to a poor judgment call or a poor thought process in crafting an inappropriate tweet will go a lot further.”
And since screenshots are easy to take, Weiner said, try to think before you act. “If you don’t want others reading it, or perhaps it being read out loud in a deposition, don’t post it.”
Misinformation. Tweeting incorrect information under a highly public profile — think journalists — might be one “extenuating circumstance,” Vernon said, adding you’d have to acknowledge the previous tweet’s error. But the platform’s tweet-threading feature makes it easy to reply directly to the faulty message with an apology or correction, she added — reducing the need for outright elimination.
In general, the experts agreed, it’s best to resist the urge. Tweet deletions give the impression “you’re trying to hide something,” Vernon said. “It makes it look like you’re trying to pretend that it never happened, and that’s not a good look for anyone.” Willingness to own up to gaffes or position changes is “a key trait of an authentic leader,” Gross said.
“I would urge professionals to understand that many of today’s young leaders grew up online … what they posted five or more years ago may not be reflective of their current views, and people change,” Gross added. The present trend of leaders of all ages retroactively curating their social media profiles is “concerning,” she said. “Who you were five years ago … is part of who you are now. It shows emotional intelligence to be able to reconcile that in the public sphere.”
Avoid social media screwups by establishing some ground rules before they happen, Duque advised: Research a topic before forming an opinion and issuing a public comment, remember there are two sides to any story, and keep in mind you represent your company — even if you don’t identify yourself on Twitter as an employee. “Anyone can Google you and find out where you work,” she said.
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