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Why Twitter is backtracking on its inactive account purge

The company began warning users on Monday that it would be deleting accounts belonging to people who had not logged in for at least six months unless they signed in and agreed to its new privacy policy, the BBC reports.

However, users and critics pointed out that the purge could result in the removal of accounts belonging to people who had died, the broadcaster adds.

In a series of tweets, the social network revealed that it would be suspending the deletions until it established a way to memorialise the accounts of dead users.

“We’ve heard you on the impact that this would have on the accounts of the deceased. This was a miss on our part,” a Twitter spokesperson said. “We will not be removing any inactive accounts until we create a new way for people to memorialise accounts.”

Why was Twitter purging accounts in the first place?

On the surface, it seems odd that a social media platform would remove the accounts of inactive users at relatively short notice. While it’s common for services to block user access until they’ve agreed to a new privacy policy, account deletion is somewhat unorthodox. 

However, Twitter says that it had been forced into the move to comply with the European Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws that came into effect in May 2018, hence the degree of urgency. 

While it initially planned to remove the inactive accounts of people within the EU, it intended to expand the purge across the whole platform at a later date.

It’s also believed that the cull was to “crack down on bad actors and bots circulating misinformation”, according to PC Magazine

But the move drew criticism from people whose dead relatives had an account, as they serve as “a valuable way of keeping their memory alive”, The Independent reports. If the cull had gone ahead as planned, these accounts may have vanished from December. 

What do social media services do with deceased user accounts?

Twitter currently doesn’t offer a service that allows relatives of deceased users to manage their account, The Guardian notes, though the company is in the process of devising a system in the wake of this week’s user backlash. 

Facebook, however, allows users to “memorialise” the account of a dead relative, which converts the person’s profile into a memorial page, says CNet. This option means the account won’t appear in Facebook ads, the “people you may know” section or send out reminders about their birthday. 

Another option is for someone to allocate a relative as a “legacy contact” before their passing, the tech site adds. While a legacy contact cannot access a person’s messages or posts, they can respond to friend requests and update the profile picture and cover photo. 

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