Elon Musk says Twitter will delete inactive users’ accounts, which could include your dead relatives

Twitter's CEO wants to 'free up abandoned handles,' but critics point to their emotional and historical worth.
Elon Musk ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at Miami International Autodrome on May 06, 2023. Photo by Clive Mason - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

On Monday, Twitter CEO Elon Musk announced plans to delete accounts that the company deems inactive. He also warned that users may see their number of followers drop as a result of the digital house cleaning. “We’re purging accounts that have had no activity at all for several years,” Musk tweeted via his personal account.

The decision prompted swift criticism from both fans and critics of Musk’s chaotic tenure at the company, with some users pointing towards the emotional and historical implications in the wholesale erasures. For many, the Twitter profiles and messages of deceased relatives and loved ones function as digital memorials. Since Musk’s announcement, some users describe scrambling to archive the data before it disappears.

[Related: Twitter’s ‘Blue Check’ drama is a verified mess.]

“My son’s account is inactive because he died nearly 2 years ago. I would be devastated if his account were to be deleted… [I]t is one of the few things I have left,” one user tweeted. “I agree it’s worth preserving the libraries from the ancient internet,” tweeted Grimes, a musician and Musk’s ex-partner.

The sudden policy shift comes less than a week after Musk threatened to reassign NPR’s account handle after the news outlet publicly stated it would cease utilizing the social media platform. NPR’s decision stemmed from objections over Twitter’s attempt to relabel the nonprofit as a “government-funded media.” It now simply features a blue checkmark indicating the account is “Verified.” Federal funding comprises less than 1 percent of NPR’s annual operating budget, according to its own public data.

Prior to Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, the social media platform attempted a similar inactive username sweep in 2019, but widespread criticism at the time prompted the company to promptly reverse course. “We’ve heard you on the impact that this would have on the accounts of the deceased. This was a miss on our part,” company representatives said at the time, adding that Twitter would not remove any inactive accounts until they created “a new way for people to memorialize accounts.”

[Related: How to download your data from Twitter and other sites.]

A new memorialization method was never announced, although in responding to one critic yesterday, Musk claimed purged accounts “will be archived… But it is important to free up abandoned handles.” Musk has not yet offered an estimated timeline of when username deletions might occur, nor how a purged account archive would work. As of writing, it is still possible to download an archive of one’s own personal account.