Oops! Need to delete a tweet? Read this first.

The standard wisdom on deleting tweets is this: It’s a bad idea.  After all, social media is all about transparency, and deleting a tweet would seem to being a slap in the face of that transparency.

I disagree – to a point.  Deleting a tweet as a cover up is a bad idea, absolutely.  It probably won’t work, as anyone who happened to reload their timeline before you deleted the tweet will still see it (and screenshot it), while deleted tweets can still show up in a search.  However, deleting a tweet, while acknowledging that it was deleted, apologizing and condemning its content, is appropriate.

Take this case with Texas Governor Rick Perry: Someone on the Governor’s social media team tweeted out an offensive and inaccurate picture about a District Attorney who was at the center of Governor Perry’s recent indictment.  Shortly after the tweet was sent out, it was deleted and replaced with this message:

Rick Perry Deleted Tweet

I’d call this a pretty good response to an unauthorized tweet.  Look at everything that the Governor managed to cram into 140 characters:

  1. The post was unauthorized, and as such, not reflective of anything the Governor thought or felt.
  2. The tweet was not condoned, further confirming that the Governor didn’t believe in its message.
  3. The tweet had been deleted, and the Governor acknowledged as much.

The implication is clear: The tweet was deleted because it was unauthorized.  To that end, the tweet deletion was pretty transparent: it happened because it was unauthorized, and the Governor was not trying to hide anything.

This is the right way to delete a tweet. You do it as an acknowledgement that it went wrong, with a note of contrition or apology.  I think this tweet would have been more effective if it also included an apology, but hey, there’s only so much you can get into 140 characters.

I also believe that deleting a tweet can help stop slow a story’s spread, as it makes it harder to be found, and harder to be retweeted (though not impossible).  Again, it also serves as an acknowledgement that you did something offensive, inappropriate or wrong.  As long as you aren’t trying to engage in a cover-up, deleting a tweet is, in my opinion, okay.

What do you think – do I have this right? Let me know in the comments!

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