Old Tweets and Moral Integrity

Recently, in the Australian electoral campaign, several politicians have been outted for saying some pretty shitty stuff online years ago. It’s forced a lot of people to withdraw from the race. It’s also forcing a lot of politicians to start purging their social media.

I understand why, but I also find this concerning.

When James Gunn got the sack it rang to many on the left as being unfair. The tweets were old. He’s progressive. Etc etc. The decision to fire him was overturned, eventually, but it all happened.

Although I don’t like a lot of the politicians that have said horrible shit online (a lot of it’s Islamophobic garbage), I’m concerned about this new movement to trawl social media for gems.

Have I said things online that were terrible? Most certainly. I’ve said horrific things. I also don’t agree with many of those things, years after the statements were made. I know Patrick had expressed similar concerns on the podcast in relation to his old online activity.

At which point is the past the past, or must we always carry it around like a Mark of Cain for all to bare witness?

Unless we purge it, then it never happened.


Like, I’ll be honest, I don’t really think I’m against something like the James Gunn firing. While, yes, it’s completely done it bad faith and the statements made are maybe less “actually belief” and more “look, I’m an edgelord”, I really don’t think a world where your shitty behavior being forgot is enough to absolve yourself of that wrong doing.

If I have a platform to share ideas, and I use that platform irresponsibly, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to be mad about that just because it happened in the past. If I’ve caused harm that was never apologized for or made up, why shouldn’t it be thrown in my face?

Deleting shitty tweets if fine, I guess. If someone doesn’t notice and it disappears, at least you cleaned up your shitty social media.


Huh yeah this is an interesting issue. The way I view it there are two sides to this. On one hand, I think people need to understand that, like you mentioned, most people have more than likely said or even believed some problematic or frankly shitty things in the past, yet many change their views (hopefully for the better) over time. On the other hand, I think people also need to realize that, what one says on the internet can essentially live forever, so they need to be careful with what they post. Not suggesting that people should go digging into others’ years-old tweets, and I think it’s okay to delete stuff, but if you’ve said something bad in the past and are confronted about it, accept responsibility, apologize, and explain that you no longer hold those views (assuming it’s true).

One thing I found pretty amusing in the link you posted about the Australian candidates is how much tweet deleting was done over relatively innocuous stuff like spelling and grammar mistakes. Meanwhile here in the US, our freaking president prides himself on saying the most outrageous shit on Twitter with absolutely no fear of consequences. It’s truly baffling.

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The thing I legitimately do not understand is why do rich people have twitter? I’m not really joking either. If you are a politician or if you are responsible for a multimillion movie production you should purge your twitter. Turn it into the most family-friendly, staffer-run thing possible. Even if you are sure you have never said anything bad ever! If a politician said some horrible shit and then decided to keep it there it’s on them, frankly.


Well, in relation to Trump, that couldn’t happen in Australia. Compulsory voting would completely destroy his chances. His tweets are designed to appeal to his base, who are not the majority by any stretch of the imagination.

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I think there is a very big difference between James Gunn (who apologized and changed) directing a Guardians of the Galaxy movie and someone becoming Prime Minister/President. One might be a cultural touchstone, but the other impacts billions of lives around the globe through policy, for better or worse. And deleting Islamophobic tweets, hell even owning up to them, isn’t enough penance for someone to become a ruler of a country.

In short, there are things that should disqualify you from becoming a president or prime minister. Islamophobic tweets are one of those things.


there are pretty easy ways to auto delete everything over a year old from your twitter account. I’ve done it, the world doesn’t need my takes preserved forever. Could honestly do it for anything older than a month.

I do a purge of my old tweets every year or so. Not because I’ve said anything particularly egregious but because, frankly, I’m not the same person I was five years ago. Not at all. So why would I want things I thought and said five years ago out there representing me? I’ll usually peruse what I’ve posted and if something still represents me accurately, I’ll probably keep it. Otherwise, purge away. If Twitter has a built in function that let you set a time for a tweet to auto-delete, I’d use it.

This whole concept of a permanent record of fleeting thoughts and statements is pretty new.

It’s kind of fucked up to have a permanent record of people’s phases of ignorance and exploration.
And it’s pretty fucking creepy for people to seek out that information. Especially when, for my generation, a lot of that information is of the internet activity of children.

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On the one hand greater accountability could mean greater prosecution of hate crimes etc. However considering how exploitable data itself it’s incredibly dystopian.

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While it’s not exactly the same as deleting tweets, there is a very good episode of the podcast Function with Anil Dash which focuses on whether Twitter should let users edit tweets.

Anil interviews an NPR reporter who got caught up in a controversy over an inaccurate tweet about the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Gifford’s back in 2011. He also interviews an engineer at Twitter who gets into the technological (spoilers it’d be very hard to do) and ethical considerations of adding an ability to edit tweets.

I’m not sure where I fall on this, to be honest! I have people I really care about who have said some shitty stuff when they were younger, and I certainly don’t want them raked over the coals for dumb stuff they did as kids, essentially.

I guess I think we should keep things in context, and take things like when the bad thing was said/done, how old the individual was, what the world was like at the time, and who they are now and what they have done since then. A case by case basis.

Personally speaking, what scares me more is that I don’t remember saying anything super bad but know I held some shitty opinions, so I’m concerned more about shit I’ve done that doesn’t register as bad in my mind because of how innocuous I considered it at the time.

I’ve also made way too many Online Posts since then to actually search my backlog for something I said or retweeted, so mostly I’m just waiting to be blown up by receipts.


This is about where I fall on it. As a white dude in Canada over the age of 25, I have 100% said some shit in the past that I would be mortified to think about now. Couldn’t tell you what they were, because my brain just doesn’t work that same way anymore (which is not to say that I’m a Good Person, it’s a process that doesn’t really end. the most I can say is that I’m a better person than I was 10 years ago.)

Though, when I went back to twitter last year it took me like 5 minutes to delete every post I’d ever made (I stopped using the site almost 10 years before) and change my name, so the fact that a politician who wasn’t already a public figure that had done that didn’t do the same just in case is probably enough to disqualify them in my mind.

On that note though, I do have respect for how Gunn handled his Bad Opinions the first time they came out. I think having someone openly say “Yeah, I said shitty things for equally shitty reasons, I’m leaving them there to show that people can improve”. Too bad Disney proved that to be a bad idea a few years later.

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They hired him back on.

I’m always skeptical when people’s response to old tweets is “I was young and I’ve learned since then.” Usually the people who say this have demonstrated zero learning outside of not touting their bigotry publicly. I believe Tim Hardaway has changed because he is out there constantly doing work to prove that he has changed and grown. But most of the people who say this have nothing in their record to show they are a demonstrably better person. We see this with a lot of athletes (most recently WWE’s lars Sullivan), and there’s never the follow up question “why have you changed? What brought you to this point? Do you actually understand the impact of the things you’ve said?”
I’m only willing to really forego old stuff if they can answer those questions and prove they haven’t just learned how to be quiet. Otherwise I have no reason to actually believe someone who was exhibiting the behavior of a racist ten years ago will not exhibit the behavior of a racist right now.