Home Artificial Intelligence How they’re being used to fuel A.I. chatbots, and what you can do about it.

How they’re being used to fuel A.I. chatbots, and what you can do about it.

Deleting 33,000 tweets is tricky business. If you want to do it for free, you might choose to go tweet by tweet. Get very good at it, and you might be able to delete a tweet every six seconds. With no breaks for sustenance, for sleep, or to use the bathroom, you could excise all 33,000 in just over two days. Alternatively, you could find some code on Reddit that purports to do it for you. You’ll have to open up the webpage’s source code while browsing on X, the site once called Twitter, then paste in a big block of code. However, the developer warns that doing this might violate the platform’s terms of service and get your account banned. You want to lose only your old tweets, not the ability to tweet.

Eventually, you will give in and pay a few bucks—maybe $7 a month—for a service like the accurately named TweetDelete. You will need a copy of all your Twitter data to upload to the site, and that will take about a day to obtain from your settings while the company compiles and packages it. But you will get it eventually.

Then, the fun begins.

Since Elon Musk restricted developers’ access to Twitter’s application programming interface—otherwise known as API—your tweet deletion service will erase tweets at a contemplative pace. (For me, it appeared to delete 50 tweets in short bursts 15 minutes apart.) Fortunately, you don’t have to keep the site open. A week or so later, the job will be done, tens of thousands of tweets lost to the ether. I preserved the past few weeks’ worth because a totally empty feed seemed too sterile, like an empty apartment in a bustling city.

Why go through all of that trouble? The historical reason is that old cautionary tale: You’ve been on social media for a while. You may have said things you regret, and rather than look through your posts with a fine-toothed comb, you nuke everything in the name of reputation preservation. But that’s not why I recently found myself jonesing to eliminate piles of my own tweets. I wanted to be free of them because, in a Muskified Twitter world, my old tweets were making the internet—and my experience on it—worse.

To be clear, I’ve said many things I regret on Twitter. For starters, any serious fight I got into was a waste of my and my fellow combatants’ time. But my account has 32,000 followers—and most of them have followed me for years. That crowd’s big enough to get me in trouble right then and there if I really step in it. The thousands of tweets just sitting on my account were mostly anodyne: me sharing links to stories I’d written or commentating on live football games in ways that wouldn’t make sense years later. (I wonder which NFL teams were playing when I tweeted “that’s a catch” on a Sunday in 2021.)

There would ordinarily not be any harm in letting those tweets stay there forever. But under Musk’s stewardship of the company, a few developments have made me much less interested in leaving them on the platform. One consideration is just aesthetic. An interminable army of spambots, posting full-frontal porn and crypto scams, now descends on a significant fraction of my posts.

At my most vain, I think of my best old tweets as clever works of wit that I’d like to preserve. In reality, many old tweets are like abandoned houses, and not even particularly nice ones. There are weeds growing in the replies and bots posting asbestos in the walls. My digital sidewalk is no longer clean. Musk has mused before about eliminating the site’s blocking feature, and that could make the scene under existing tweets so much messier. I do not feel like maintaining a breeding ground for tacky internet vandalism.

Meanwhile, Musk has drifted right and become an enthusiastic booster of antisemitic and white replacement drivel. Leaving up old tweets now directly benefits Musk in a few ways. He could make money by selling (increasingly sketchy-looking) advertisements that appear among those tweets in search results. Musk has also been developing a janky chatbot on the site, called Grok. The bot produces a lot of poor writing that summarizes posts on topics it thinks will be of interest to a given user, and it also comes up with stories that aren’t just incorrect but dangerous. The bot trains on what people post on X, making all our old tweets potential collaborators in whatever Musk does with the robot.

I somehow doubt that scrubbing old posts will prevent A.I. from taking a Terminator arc if that is what the machines eventually want. But I’d rather not aid Musk in developing what is, at best, annoying software that has already made a popular social media site less usable.

Purging my old tweets felt like a tiny contribution toward a slightly better internet, but the biggest reason I wanted to get rid of them was personal. Under Musk, X has moved toward an algorithmic model designed to hook users in the style of TikTok or Instagram. Users still have the classic option to see only posts by people they follow, in chronological order, but the platform’s For You feed, full of posts it thinks you’ll like, has become increasingly prominent. The For You feed can be intoxicating, particularly on the occasions when it assumes (correctly) that I’m interested in posts on topics that aren’t banal.

I’m convinced that the algorithm has made me less optimistic about the world by showing me the most outrage-inducing opinions about serious issues. My hope is that by deleting a weeks-old quote-tweet of some doofus urging that the National Guard be deployed to fire on college students in tents, I’ll be shown fewer tweets by doofuses going forward and I will be less angry when I look at Twitter. In the same spirit, I’m working to get rid of all my old “likes.” As far as the algorithm is concerned, I’d prefer to be unpredictable, or at least get a fresh slate. I don’t want the new Twitter to know what’ll keep me “engaged,” which, in my history on the site, has been a synonym for “annoyed but having difficulty looking away.”

All of that might sound as if it’s not worth the squeeze. Why, a wise person might ask, should someone spend any time at all in a place that can so easily bring them to anger?

The simple answer is that a reasonable person wouldn’t, but a lack of reason is also why Twitter maintains a small but mighty user base. Twitter is perpetually a car fire, and its biggest advantage is that humans enjoy rubbernecking. The effort required to delete tweets is absurd, but the lift to build enough self-control to leave the site altogether is much more daunting. And if you cannot extract your future self, you can at least remove your past self. It’ll just cost you seven bucks and maybe a few weeks of waiting.



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