Twitter has become a place where politics and world events are discussed in real time. The social network helped overthrow dictators during the Arab Spring, and Twitter hashtags can make big news. But anyone who wants to go back and review those tweets after the fact have a hard time. Twitter is trying to make the process a lot easier.
Twitter has released a search engine that indexes every public tweet since 2006, meaning users can easily search through the hundreds of billions of tweets ever sent.
Twitter's original search engine was designed to search for what people were tweeting at the time. Users search for tweets on topics using hashtags or Twitter handles, but they were listed in chronological order. There is a "Top" tweets section, but even that emphasized what was posted most recently.
"Since that first simple Tweet over eight years ago, hundreds of billions of Tweets have captured everyday human experiences and major historical events," Yi Zhuang, a Twitter developer who worked on the search engine, wrote in a blog. "Our search engine excelled at surfacing breaking news and events in real time, and our search index infrastructure reflected this strong emphasis on recency. But our long-standing goal has been to let people search through every Tweet ever published."
The Twitter experience normally feels rushed and fleeting. Newsfeeds are always updating, tweets are flying, and everything is old news the second it's sent. But the search engine seems to slowdown the Twitter experience. It provides a depth to the network that's helpful to users who want to research topics on the site.
The new search engine is easy to navigate. Searches can be conducted by looking through specific hashtags, handles, or keywords. Users can look for tweets from a specific time period, which removes the need for perpetually scrolling to find old tweets. The new search engine can also look for tweets based on where they were sent and by the mood of the tweet.
"For now, complete results from the full index will appear in the 'All' tab of search results on the Twitter web client and Twitter for iOS & Twitter for Android apps," Mr. Zhuang wrote. "Over time, you’ll see more Tweets from this index appearing in the 'Top' tab of search results and in new product experiences powered by this index."
But the new search engine is bound to cause concern among some users looking to hide all those old embarrassing tweets. Don't worry. Here are some ways to delete those tweets and ensure they don't resurface.
First, users can manually delete specific tweets. Use the search engine to find those incriminating or embarrassing tweets and then deleted forever using the delete button. Users can also download an archive of tweets and easily find ones that need to be deleted. The local file will have links to each specific tweets, making them easy to delete.
Secondly, web apps such as Tweet Delete, Tweet Deleter, and Twit Wipe allow users to remove tweets based on blocks of time. Type in a specific time period you want to remove, say a year or month, and all tweets during that span will be removed.
Lastly, users can deactivate their whole account. This is the most thorough way of deleting data from the site. Twitter will delete the data 30 days after an account is deactivated. But if you log back into the account within the 30-day window, the account will be reactivated, and the information won't be removed.
For users who chose this option, but want to keep their handle, they can change their Twitter handle before deactivating the account, which allows the users to create a new account with the same Twitter handle. Beware, even if the same handle is used, all of the account's followers will be lost.
Deleting tweets doesn't keep them secret forever. There are places where they can still pop up. The Library of Congress is archiving every tweet sent for official records, and indexing by search engines can resurface caches of tweets.