The company has been e-mailing users who haven't touched their Twitter accounts for a period of six months to tell them they have until December 11 to log into their accounts. If they don't do so by then, Twitter will permanently delete the accounts and make their usernames available to the public. As soon as someone logs in to their account (before the deadline), they'll be able to keep their username with no penalty. Those that fail to log in will be subject to the deletion. Exactly when the accounts will be deleted is unknown.
Twitter told The Verge, which earlier reported on the move, that the company's decision is intended to "clean up inactive accounts to present more accurate, credible information" to its users. But the move has taken on a decidedly controversial bent, with some saying it's a smart move for Twitter and good for users and others worrying that it might be inappropriate.
The Case For Deleting Empty Accounts
Those in favor of Twitter's move have said on the service and elsewhere that some corners of Twitter are little more than wastelands. Empty or nearly-empty accounts are everywhere, artificially inflating follower counts, and providing no value. Businesses, however, often tout their high follower counts. If those empty accounts are deleted, companies could see their follower counts drop. Indeed, those companies with more real, active followers could stand to gain, while those with a large following of fake accounts could be in for trouble.
Furthermore, proponents say, some of those empty accounts have really desirable usernames that both individuals and companies would want.
It's a valid argument. There are, after all, plenty of people and companies that signed up for Twitter long ago and took highly sought-after handles, preventing others from being able to access them. It can be frustrating for companies and individuals alike when they can't use a username that would be most relevant to their companies or their lives, because it's being used by a dead account.
The Case Against Deletion
But there are also very real implications to removing accounts that are no longer in use. Chief among them for business users is that follower counts could fall dramatically. Fewer followers could make your business look worse in the eyes of customers who are using Twitter. It could also reduce your reach on the social network -- a potentially troubling event that could hurt marketing efforts.
And for individual users, the move could have a more personal consequence: potentially losing a connection to loved ones.
On TechCrunch, former senior writer Drew Olanoff wrote that his deceased father had sometimes used Twitter to communicate with him. He still visits his father's account often to keep his memory alive, even though he died four years ago.
This resonates with me. My father was certainly no active Twitter user, but he had an account he would sometimes use to connect with me on social media. He died in February and since his death, his account has (obviously) been inactive. Twitter's new rule means my father's account will probably be deleted within the next couple of weeks -- and, like Olanoff, I would lose another connection to my father.
Of course, I could always screenshot his tweets or move them to another account in some way, but that's not the point. Facebook has the ability to memorialize accounts of those who have died, but Twitter does not. And that's a shame.
Still, I see both arguments. And like anything else in the tech world, this isn't an easy decision. But if you're someone who really loves your Twitter account, log in now to keep it. If you've been trying for years to take over a dead account, get ready to move -- you'll probably be able capture it in as little as a few weeks from now.