If a Facebook exec deletes his tweet, does it still make a sound?
There's a delete button next to every tweet. One Facebook executive, in the midst of a scandal, used it to remove statements he'd made. But the internet didn't forget.
Ian SherrFormer Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
On Saturday, just after 9 a.m. PT, Facebook's head of security, Alex Stamos, sent out a series of tweets criticizing a pair of stories from The New York Times and The Guardian. The stories covered a growing scandal involving a lecturer at the University of Cambridge, an analytics firm called Cambridge Analytica and data on more than 50 million Facebook accounts that was reportedly accessed without the users' consent.
Stamos wanted us to know Facebook had been deceived.
"He lied to those users and he lied to Facebook about what he was using the data for," Stamos wrote.
The tweets were a full-throated defense of the world's largest social network and the harshest language the company had used against Kogan since revealing Friday that it had suspended Kogan, along with Cambridge Analytica, from its service.
So why didn't I link to the tweets? Because Stamos deleted them, in what looks like an attempt to remove them from the public record.
Of course, nothing truly disappears from the internet, and within minutes, other Twitter users postedscreenshots of his now-disappeared tweets.
Facebook didn't respond to a request for comment about its social media policy for executives and whether it allows them to delete posts made in their official capacity. Stamos didn't respond to a direct message on Twitter. And on Monday, Stamos reportedly had decided to leave the social network, though he subsequently tweeted that he had changed roles and remained "fully engaged with my work at Facebook."
Watch this: Did Facebook lose control of your information?
Public square, public record
About 330 million people use Twitter each month to post 280-character musings about what's on their mind. The service attracts some of the most high-profile people in the world, from titans of industry such as Apple CEO Tim Cook to celebrities including Kim Kardashian West. President Donald Trump's Twitter feed regularly sets the political world on its ear, easily changing the conversation and focus in Washington.
Not all of those tweets, however, stay in place. Factbase, a service that tracks politicians' tweets, counted more than 300 tweets that have been posted and then deleted from Trump's feed alone since 2011. In Trump's case, recent removals were ostensibly for misspellings or incorrect word use (last week, the president wrote about the "Marine Core.") But that hasn't stopped a group of people from regularly collecting and cataloging his tweets to ensure that a fuller public record exists, blemishes and all.
"While there are many gray areas that exist across personal life, private devices and messaging for transparency and record keeping, updates to public timelines on social media platforms by politicians acting in their official capacity should be preserved for posterity and public good," said Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, an open-government advocacy group that until 2016 ran Politwoops, a website tracking deleted tweets from politicians. (It's now run by ProPublica.)
Everyone else isn't held to such a high standard, though. Tech billionaires and their employees, like Facebook's Stamos, don't have a legal responsibility to collect records of their social media posts.
Still, the episode raises questions about Twitter's role in public discourse and as a trustworthy source of information. Twitter makes it remarkably easy for anyone to join a public conversation from anywhere in the world. But when people say something they later regret or even want to hide, should they be allowed to rewrite history by merely pushing a delete button?