To delete or not to delete – do we have a choice?

An excerpt from page 309 of The Circle:


The above is one of the basic principles of The Circle: they never delete anything. In their eyes, to delete is to rob others of information. All information should be shared and once obtained, should stay there forever.

This indeed is one of the fear-inducing elements of the book. Can you imagine if the delete button was removed from your keyboard? Or, the ‘edit’ option when you want to adjust your post on Tumblr or untag yourself from a photo on Facebook? Every photo you’ve ever taken, every thought ever written down would be available for all to see, forever. As you read this, you might feel grateful this isn’t reality and just to make sure you double-check your keyboard, your eyes settling on the ‘delete’ key. Yes, it is in fact still there on your computer keyboard but does it exist on the Internet?

Dan Benton (@dogsbodyorg on Twitter) tested whether a tweet really gets deleted back in 2010.  He found out that the tweet only stopped showing up on search engines after several months, while still appearing on other websites. This experiment of his did not include Twitter’s own back-up database. It is important to stress here that this tweet was a random one that didn’t get much response from other Twitter users. Imagine a tweet from an organization, a politician or a celebrity. With many users quoting the tweet and taking screenshots of it, the tweet could indeed never be deleted.

This same experiment could be done with any other social media platform, such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest etc. There isn’t much we can do about the (perhaps indefinite) delay these platforms take when deleting any data, as we did all agree to their terms and conditions in the first place. Perhaps the thing to do is to think first and post later.

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