The Twitter implosion and the pink lists

Content warning: violence against queer people in history.

Like many people, I've been watching the implosion of Twitter under Space Karen with a mixture of dark humor, relief (that I left when I did), and horror.

As time goes on and the likelihood that the company continues to be a going concern rapidly approach nil, the horror is growing.

I started looking around for a couple options to try to scrub history. (I probably should have been doing this regularly. But I wasn't.) That was when I discovered a couple things:

  • The Twitter API won't actually give you a full list of your tweets, only the last 3,200 or so that you made (and it won't roll further back after you delete those) so it's impossible to scrub from the API only.
  • "Deleting" direct messages doesn't. Thankfully, they're upfront about this fact as far as conversations with others go, telling you that other folks in the conversation will still have all the messages. But it makes me think.

The privacy of services like Twitter end at the line of a piece of software deciding whether to show something to a specific person—or not. The text of all you write is stored, completely readable, somewhere.

With modern technology, this can be used to infer quite a bit about you. Including exactly how queer you are. And we're in the middle of a Republican push to criminalize queerness.

And I can't help but think about Magnus Hirschfeld and the pink lists.

I learned about Magnus Hirschfeld a little while back, when I was busy making up for all the queer history that was hidden from me as I was I was growing up.

Hirschfeld ran the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sex Research) in the years before the Nazis rose to power in Germany. When they did, they attacked the institute and burned its books.

Nazi Party members at the Opernplatz book burning in Berlin, which included the institute's archives.
By Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14597 / Georg Pahl / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, Link

But they also took the client list and used it in the compilation of the "pink lists"—used to round up homosexual Germans to send them to the concentration camps.

Hirschfeld compiled his client lists with the best of intentions in mind—literally, in support of queer people. But that information was taken and abused.

I don't think it's a huge logical leap to look at the direction we're headed in today and draw parallels. There is so much data out there that exposes queer people—some of it, voluntarily, but also a lot they're likely not even aware of.

And it's already not being held particularly safely, though the people who collect it may have even had good intentions. What happens when the Republicans who are currently labeling queer people "groomers" come to collect it?

It's not just Twitter. It's any product that isn't built with the express intention that wherever possible, people who the data about are the only people who can use it—and that means the product people can't use it either.

I know that isn't the ideal we reach every time. But we have to know the risks of not reaching for it.

You'll only receive email when they publish something new.

More from Mattie B
All posts