Elon Musk announces purge of unused Twitter accounts—but there’s a reason Twitter hasn’t already done this

May 9, 2023, 4:35 PM UTC
SAMUEL CORUM/AFP via Getty Images

Twitter is promising to purge its many inactive accounts. Again.

“Twitter will soon start freeing the name space of 1.5 billion accounts,” CEO Elon Musk tweeted yester…oh, sorry, that was five months ago. Here’s yesterday’s tweet: “We’re purging accounts that have had no activity at all for several years, so you will probably see follower count drop.” 

Speaking as a David Meyer who has occasionally been annoyed that some namesake set up the @davidmeyer Twitter account in 2011, tweeted “Just created an account,” and then disappeared, I can certainly see the value in such a purge (though overall I remain happy with @superglaze, a handle I’ve been using online for nearly three decades now). The question is whether Musk can avoid the very well-signposted pitfalls that are associated with clearing out dormant accounts.

Ye Olde Twitter, which had hinted at such a move as far back as 2010, said definitively in 2019 that it would deactivate all accounts that had not been signed into for six months. It swiftly abandoned that plan after many pointed out that Twitter (unlike Facebook) has no memorialization plan for the accounts of dead people, which surviving relatives often visit for comfort. “We’ve heard you on the impact that this would have on the accounts of the deceased. This was a miss on our part. We will not be removing any inactive accounts until we create a new way for people to memorialize accounts,” Twitter tweeted.  And then, crickets, until Musk came along last year. 

The lack of memorialization isn’t Twitter’s only challenge. John Carmack, the metaverse maven who recently fled Meta, responded to Musk’s tweet yesterday by expressing concern that purging inactive accounts would delete historic tweets and fragment old threads. “I agree it’s worth preserving the libraries from the ancient internet!” added the extremely-online musician Grimes, who is Musk’s ex.

“The accounts will be archived,” said Musk. “But it is important to free up abandoned handles.”

Another counterpoint courtesy of Carmack: “Tossing old names back into the free pool just starts another land grab. People camping on hundreds of freely claimed usernames has always been one of the scummier aspects of the internet. Maybe require buying at least one month of Twitter Blue if you want to claim an inactive username.” (Would that solve the problem? I’m not so sure.)

There is a point to freeing up abandoned handles, but it will all be in the implementation. This could conceivably go right if the archiving process is cleverly managed. But if it goes wrong—and Musk’s Twitter has an atrocious track record when it comes to executing major policy changes—then a lot of people are going to be left heartbroken that they can no longer scroll through the old tweets of departed loved ones, and/or horrified to see those accounts spring to life under the control of a complete stranger. 

I know that Musk revels in doing the things that everyone says are fraught with danger, but unless he’s cracked the conundrum that stymied his predecessors, this one could mess up something that still gives Twitter a deeper meaning: fond memories.

More news below.

Want to send thoughts or suggestions to Data Sheet? Drop a line here.

David Meyer

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman. 


LinkedIn closes its job application service in China. Microsoft-owned LinkedIn is suspending its InCareer job application service due to the “fierce competition” and “challenging macroeconomic climate” it faced. InCareer had less than a million monthly active users by the end of March, behind the 18 million users competitor 51Job had. With the end of the service coming in August, more than 700 employees involved in LinkedIn’s China operations as well as other global departments will be laid off. The company will discontinue its product and engineering teams in China, and reduce its sales and marketing departments.

IBM unveils A.I. services. A platform that provides tools for building A.I. models and for using pretrained models that generate computer code and text is coming with IBM’s watsonx. It will compete with Amazon’s SageMaker Studio, Google’s Vertex AI, and Microsoft's Azure AI platform. But IBM says its watsonx is different, TechCrunch reports, because it provides pretrained models that are developed for the enterprise with infrastructure that’s cost effective. IBM also announced watsonx.data, a data store for governed data and A.I. workloads, and watsonx.governance, a toolkit for protecting customer privacy and detecting model bias.  

Influencers fight for better pay and labor conditions. Digital influencers and professionals who work with them are pushing tech companies to increase creators’ compensation and address issues like unexplained removals of creators’ accounts from apps. The Information reports that the nonprofit initiative is known as Creator Project 1.0, and is led by Ezra Cooperstein, a president at the talent management company representing popular creators like MrBeast. “Platforms have too much power and we need leadership to organize and fight on behalf of the modern creator class,” Cooperstein wrote in a post calling for members to join.


”Something small is coming”

—Volvo, in a teaser ad for its electric SUV known as the EX30. After its global debut on June 7, it’s set to have plenty of competition with the Tesla Model Y, Ford Mustang Mach-E, Hyundai Ioniq 5, and others.


Exclusive: Bessemer Venture Partners is committing $1 billion to invest in A.I. startups, by Anne Sraders

Tech CEO who had been missing for over a year is found dead near where he was last seen exiting an Uber, by Orianna Rosa Royle

Snoop Dogg goes off script in interview with former Apple Music director, saying the music industry ‘isn’t working’ anymore because of streaming, by Eleanor Pringle

Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak says a human needs to be held responsible for A.I. creations to stop ‘bad actors’ tricking the public, by Chloe Taylor

How the Pepe token, ‘fueled by pure memetic power,’ soared past a $1.6 billion market cap in 3 weeks—and then tumbled, by Ben Weiss


A chatbot will take your Frosty order. Wendy’s will use an A.I. chatbot developed by Google to automate its drive-through service. The rollout is slated for June at a company-owned restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, with the aim of streamlining orders and preventing long lines in drive-through lanes, Wendy’s CEO Todd Penegor told the Wall Street Journal. Wendy’s language model is equipped with words that people commonly say when ordering their food like “JBC” for junior bacon cheeseburger, or “biggie bags” for combo orders.

“It will be very conversational,” Penegor said. “You won’t know you’re talking to anybody but an employee.” But automated drive-throughs haven't always gone according to plan. At McDonald’s, the A.I. ordering system saw an 85% accuracy, with customers who got the wrong order making viral TikToks when the tech failed.

This is the web version of Data Sheet, a daily newsletter on the business of tech. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.

Read More

CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet