This is What Happens to Your Data If You Leave a Social Media Platform

Decisions about what should happen to our digital traces should be influenced by the people who made them. Their use impacts our privacy, autonomy and anonymity, and is ultimately a question of power.

Typically, when a website or platform “dies,” or “sunsets,” decisions about data are made by employees of the company on an ad hoc basis.

Proprietary data — that which is produced on a platform and held by the company — is at the discretion of the company, not the people who produced it. More often, options that a platform provides to users to determine their privacy or deletion do not remove all digital traces from the internal database.

While some data is deleted on a regular basis (like Yahoo email), other data can remain online for a very long time.

Sometimes, this data is collected by the Internet Archive, an online digital library. Once archived, it becomes part of our collective cultural heritage. But there are no consensuses or standards for how this data should be treated.

Users should be invited to consider how they would want their platform data to be collected, stored, preserved, deployed or destroyed, and in which contexts.

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