Turning inner space into outer space

April 4, 2015

The Internet remembers your old tweets even if you don't — just ask Trevor Noah

Old tweets came back to haunt comedian Trevor Noah, but it didn't have to be that way.

Research by the London School of Economics shows that young people who watch political satire are more likely to vote.

If true, programs such as This Hour Has 22 Minutes and The Daily Show are more than just sources of comedy. According to researcher Amy Bree Becker:

. . . tuning into a comedy interview increases the likelihood that young people will take part in a protest, march or demonstration, sign an email petition, or sign a written petition about a political or social issue. They are also more likely to recall basic facts about the politician if they catch them on comedy as opposed to cable news.

She notes that a survey by Pew Research found that 39 percent of the audience for The Daily Show is under the age of 30.

TV shows that poke fun at politicians likely increase the level of cynicism that already holds sway among voters. But it was real actions by real politicians that created this sense of distrust in the first place. Comedy just makes it easier to swallow.

With all this in mind, it becomes a fairly important event when Jon Stewart leaves as host of The Daily Show after 15 years. Who could possibly replace him? And can it be done gracefully?

In the age of the Internet, there are never easy answers to these questions. The recently announced new host Trevor Noah looks to be a smart and energetic replacement. But like all comedians these days, he posts jokes on Twitter. And if you go back over the years, you can dredge up his old jokes and judge them.

Of course, that’s exactly what happened.

Like many comedians, Noah would try out new material on Twitter to see if it was worth developing. A few years ago, he made some jokes about women, Jews and fat people that at best just aren’t funny and at worst are in bad taste.

Poor Noah had no idea back then that he would one day be entrusted with hosting a TV show considered in some circles to be a virtual pillar of American democracy. Can a man who told bad jokes on Twitter be given such a weighty responsibility?

We’ll see.

Meanwhile, you might want to think about your own Twitter past and how it can come back to haunt you.

In real life, if you say something idiotic, you can expect that the people who heard it will in some way hold you accountable — even if it’s just some razzing. But at least it’s over with and you can move on.

With social media, that idiotic statement can live on forever. It can be rediscovered over and over again. In the U.S., the Library of Congress is archiving billions of tweets.

Ask yourself — is there anything you’ve ever posted on Twitter that needs to live on for years? How about months? Or even weeks?

Let’s face it. There’s precious little on Twitter that couldn’t be deleted after a week or two and never be missed by anyone. So why keep those old tweets? Maybe services like Snapchat, which delete messages right away, have got it right.

I’m thinking most people don’t delete their old tweets because they’re too lazy, too busy or simply don’t care if anyone sees them. Noah likely fell into one of those categories.

To be sure, firing up your account at the Twitter website and manually deleting old tweets is no one’s idea of fun. Which is why, of course, there are services that will do this for you.

The appropriately named Tweet Delete automatically deletes your tweets after a certain period of time that you specify. It can also delete up to 3,200 of your old tweets in one go. It’s fairly basic, but at least it’s free.

For something more elaborate, you could try TweetDeleter. It has a free version that meets the needs of most people and a premium paid version aimed at companies that pump out hundreds of tweets a day.

Noah learned his lesson the hard way. Will you?