Future Tense Newsletter: What Happens When the Government Deletes Its Tweets?

Screenshot of a deleted @USArmy tweet, provided in response to one of the author’s FOIA requests with the U.S. Army.
U.S. Army

If you’re a social media user, there’s a chance that you’ve deleted a regrettable post at some point. But who gets to decide when a government agency can delete a tweet that might have political or historical importance? Researcher Muira McCammon spent thousands of hours investigating the strange and inconsistent history of disappearing government tweets—and what she found was an alarming lack of policies dictating what can and can’t be deleted. The erasures not only present questions about government accountability, argues McCammon, but also damage what could be a rich historical record. In a separate piece, she chronicles one of the great examples: the deleted posts of the Joint Task Force of Guantánamo, which, she writes, provided a weird and delightful window into the culture on the base.

The political ramifications of social media continue to be a hot-button issue in Washington too. Yet it seems that, even after Zuckerberg’s congressional hearings, we’re still debating whether Facebook’s work with the 2016 Trump presidential campaign was illegal. Lawmakers are also looking to the next campaign cycle. As Emefa Addo Agawu writes, even though Congress recently committed $380 million to bulk up election security, replacing outdated voting infrastructure won’t do anything to mitigate other cyberthreats, such as social media manipulation. As midterms loom, states are also starting to take cybersecurity concerns into their own hands. Georgia’s governor, for example, seems poised to sign a new bill responding to a recent ransomware attack on the city of Atlanta. Dillon Roseen explains why the strict new legislation could actually hurt cybersecurity research needed to keep data safe.

Other things we read this week after enjoying the plethora of memes spawned by the Zuckerberg hearing:

Life on Mars: NASA’s new TESS satellite shows that the federal agency is no longer afraid to show it’s interested in searching for potential extraterrestrial life.

Seismic shift: The U.S. is about to roll out its first large-scale earthquake alert system. But there are still challenges to using phone alerts to keep citizens safe.

The 90s called: Rachel Withers explains how a 1998 Federal Trade Commission case against GeoCities laid the groundwork for the data privacy discussions we’re having about Facebook today.

This message will self destruct: To keep up with a demand for secure communication services, Google may soon introduce emails with an expiration date.

Robo-crime: Who’s responsible for a bot that threatens murder? The European Union is trying to decide.

Insult to injury: A new story from the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal found that Tesla failed to report a number of serious worker injuries on legally mandated reports.

Still waiting to go viral,

Tonya Riley

For Future Tense

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.