breaking up with Twitter


This morning I found myself locked out of my Twitter account. Twitter claimed that my account was playing shenanigans (inconceivable!) and that to rescue my account, I had to give Twitter my phone number to validate that it’s really me.

Except Twitter never had my phone number before, so giving it to them would validate nothing.

Twitter and I have had a rough year. I was pretty active under the account @Magnus919, but had to abandon it since Twitter did not give me the means by which to clean up the cruft in my content. Earlier this year, I moved to @MagNetDevOps which was being used a little more carefully, and for the purpose of engaging with the professional community in my field.

With @Magnus919, I was using Twitter to connect with people from any of a number of far-flung interests, from DevOps to deafness, from autism to fountain pens. But the way Twitter is structured, it actually punishes people for having a wide variety of interests. It rewards deep focus on one or two special interests. If I spent a couple of days focusing on DevOps, I’d build followers in that space, and then just as quickly lose them when engaging the community of people with disabilities.

So I thought I’d create a number of accounts that were all clearly identified as belonging to me, but each specializing in a single field of interest. Twitter made it impossible to clean up the corpus of old tweets on @Magnus919, so I deleted that account and created @MagNetDevOps for focusing on content focused on my professional interests. From there, I was going to create some other accounts for other areas of interest, but never got that far.

Twitter, you see, has joined Facebook in requiring a phone number in order to have an account. Under duress, I complied with Facebook’s policy. Since Facebook was always meant to be one person / one account / real name, I wasn’t too terribly broken up about it. But Twitter is something else all together. I’m aware of a number of people who, for their own safety, require keeping a safe space between their online identity and their legal identity. These are people who, for any number of reasons, have legitimate reasons to fear real-world hostility from the people online around them. They may be seeking support for an invisible disability, or trying to have frank conversations about transgender rights. Or maybe, like the many who led the Arab Spring movement, they are speaking out against a government who oppresses them. By requiring such personally identifiable information in conjunction with a Twitter account, Twitter is going to silence those voices.

Twitter made a vague claim that my account had done something wrong, via automation, without giving any details about what it had supposedly been party to. I could not find any evidence of wrong doing on my Twitter account. They claimed that giving them a phone number would validate that I’m the account owner, yet this account was created with an email address and not a phone number. If the goal was to validate that I owned the account, it would make sense to do this via the email account used to create the Twitter account. Twitter seems to want my phone number, but I doubt that their stated reason matches their actual intent. I’m calling Twitter’s integrity into question here.

As a matter of principle, I don’t want to be a part of legitimizing this change in policy. Going forward, my Twitter account will lay fallow until Twitter no longer requires personally identifiable information to be associated with its accounts.

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4 comments

    1. Agreed. Since I was already having a hard time with it’s favoritism toward single-topic tweeters, opting out seemed the natural course. As Twitter redefines itself, I’m sure something new will come along to disrupt and displace it to some extent.

  1. Hi Magnus! I’ve experienced the same situation those days. You talked in your article about two separate things: the fact that Twitter punishes people with a wide variety of interests (completely real! I’m in the same situation), and also “needs” a mobile phone number to “verify” an identity, as I never give Twitter any phone number. So I completely agree with you in the whole text.

    I’m having this issue with my account right now. And not only I don’t want to give my telephone: I just don’t own a telephone. And never expected Twitter could someday force me to give a telephone number. I think it violates the privacy.

    I see that you finally recovered the @Magnus919 account. What did you do finally?

    I’ve the option of use a virtual SMS number, but I don’t want to cheat on this point. If I don’t want to have a telephone or just don’t want to share my number, it should be enough.

    1. I relented, I gave up a mobile number, and I have a really uncomfortable relationship with Twitter. I don’t think it’s possible to thrive in my professional role without some kind of presence on Twitter, so there I am.

      The whole thing has left a bad taste in my mouth that continues to linger. All the while, it’s a platform where bullies and bona-fide NAZIS continue to thrive. So forgive me for not being enthused about the ecosystem they’ve created for us.

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