Twitter And Facebook Should Give Us A 'Start From Scratch' Button

Photo: Andrew Burton, Getty

The best buttons on the internet are all children of the “delete” key.

Unfollow, unfriend, unsubscribe. Delete, trash, clear. There’s nothing better than shedding unnecessary noise and data to make places such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram fresh slates. After years on a social network such as Twitter, sometimes the only option to fight the content creep is to start from zero.

Starting from scratch on social media is good for privacy, security and sanity.

At no point did anyone signing up for these platforms 10 or 15 years ago realise the full implications of making years (and soon to be decades) worth of detailed information about themselves permanently and often publicly etched in digital stone, exposing themselves to online advertisers and trackers intent on using that data to manipulate what we buy, think, say and vote on.

Think of the concept of “data portability”, the idea that you can download all your data from a platform in order to move it somewhere else. Google, Facebook and Twitter let you download archives of everything you’ve done on the platform in case you want to move your data elsewhere.

They should also let you delete everything you’ve done on their platforms quickly and easily without actually nuking the entire thing.

The only current option to do that for Twitter and Facebook is to delete your entire account, a deterrence to those of us who want to use social media but not sell out our privacy by making everything permanently available on the internet.

This is also a security problem. Because there is virtually no easy way to mass delete your data from these platforms, that generally leaves two options. First, you can spend hours clicking the delete button in a tedious exercise seemingly designed to deter the act of mass deletion.

Or you can sign up for third-party services such as TweetDelete or run random scripts you find on the internet, give them access to your important accounts, and hope for the best. It’s an unnecessary risk made real (and popular) only because these tech giants refuse to give us a real delete button themselves.

Every collection of data should come with an easy, one-click delete button. But it doesn’t, likely because deleting data means it can’t be used and sold by these companies to make money. As such, the closest things we have to this are still miles from ideal.

For example, Google’s Gmail tracks your history of purchases and makes it impossibly tedious — but not technically impossible! — to delete. The only recourse you have is to either individually delete years worth of receipts or mass delete all of your emails.

Out of Google, Facebook and Twitter, Google seems to be the best in terms of giving you tools to delete your data, but it still isn’t good enough.

One common refrain from some critics is that anyone unhappy with Facebook’s privacy practices, for instance, should delete their accounts right away.

It often isn’t that simple for many people for whom Facebook is the only way they can effectively contact important families, friends or neighbours. For these people, fighting for a better Facebook, one that gives users control of their data rather than leaving altogether, is the much more practical path than leaving altogether.

The mass delete can also help your sanity. After several years on any social network, following a bunch of different people and accounts leads to a noticeable content creep that can leave you in a situation where feeds are filled up with a bombardment of noise rather than what you want to see — noise that can end up amplified by whatever the platform’s algorithm thinks is best to then puke out in front of you.

There’s a strange and often unmentioned social pressure here: Many of us have the thought that unfollowing or unfriending someone might offend them. That chance of unintentionally pissing someone off leads to preemptive apologies or, more often, just never unfollowing people in the first place.

But you shouldn’t have to apologise to anyone for wanting to start your social media accounts from scratch. It’s good practice to clean house every once in a while for all sorts of reasons. It’s equally smart to do it digitally, too.

Most importantly, you definitely should never need to say sorry to the tech companies for wanting a little more privacy, security and control of your data.

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