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Twitter: Why is Elon Musk purging inactive accounts?

Twitter Election Impostors (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Twitter Election Impostors (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Elon Musk is “purging” old accounts on Twitter, he has said, in yet another controversial change to the service.

He said that accounts with “no activity at all for several years” would be removed from the platform. He noted that the result is likely to be a decrease in people’s follower account.

But the move has already led to widespread criticism from users who say that it could remove important personal and social history from the site, as well as being yet another ill-explained move from Mr Musk.

Much remains unclear about the plan. Mr Musk did not clarify what would mark an active account, for instance – whether it would need its owner to sign in, or if they might have to post – and gave no information about the timescale of the “purging”.

But here’s everything we do know about what will be happening to those old Twitter accounts.

Why would Elon Musk do this?

Mr Musk suggested that the focus is on “free[ing] up abandoned handles”. Many Twitter users who joined the site in its early years were able to claim much-desired usernames – such as those with only three characters – and have not used them since.

Even before the purge, people have gone to considerable lengths in order to get those accounts. Those holding particularly valuable handles have spoken about being subject both to hacking attacks and considerable monetary offers to get access to them.

It also has the benefit of giving an indication that staying as an active member of Twitter is valuable – or, at least, that it might be problematic not to use an account at all. That in turn could mean that more people log in to more Twitter accounts more regularly, which is a key metric at advertising-driven companies such as Twitter.

Why is it being criticised?

Many users have suggested that getting rid of those old, inactive accounts will mean deleting history. That might mean deleting accounts that were run by dead loved ones, or simply removing posts that have had a substantial impact on the world.

In response, Mr Musk has indicated that the accounts will be “archived”, in a tweet replying to one such critic. He did not give any information about what this might mean, but other comments suggested that the posts may stay available on Twitter but not at the old handle.

Many also suggested that the plan had not been fully thought through when it was announced, noting that Mr Musk had given no information to those who might have accounts removed, such as those that use them only to follow developments on Twitter and not post their own tweets.