When somebody leaves Mastodon, toots should be deleted only in special cases

@acw@mastodon.social has left, probably because some people have called him a fascist.

Now the problem is all his toots are gone and so is important part of the early Mastodon history. Leaving for one reason or another is fine, but purging messages is not a good option.

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This is a bit off topic (while also on topic), but from what I saw he just moved accounts to cyber.spaces?

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I agree from a community POV that leaves a big hole in the history of the online community (I also missed chatting to him about obscure/retro tech) but if we are saying “you own your own data” he has the right to do so if he so wishes for whatever reason (unless its trying to destroy evidence of an actual crime).

Indeed that is likely to be a requirement for us Europeans as part of GDPR - I know acw wasn’t in EU but his instance(s) may well be.

On the rave forum I help moderate we’ve had to do this more than once, sometimes in sensitive situations where a <18 has posted something that could be a safeguarding risk to themselves, or worse, on the request of parents when a young person has fatally overdosed (though its more common the parents just ask us to lock the profile, share any funeral requests and/or post any relevant safety warnings about the drugs that led to the users demise).

At least acw is alive and well and just on another instance, albeit posting much less frequently than before…

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It is not a requirement of the European law. The message sent out to somebody cannot be owned by the sender, and the sender cannot request copies of their message to be deleted just like that.

Some people misunderstood the “right to be forgotten” idea as a blanket license to request removal of everything they have ever written. (Even widely discussed Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Mario Costeja González case doesn’t say that).

Sensitive situations are always to be considered on a case-by-case basis, but outright deletion of everything is just plain wrong. I’ve had a couple of links in the conversations for example and now they are all gone.


Not sure if there is an interest in a separate thread?

I think it is something moderators should be aware of and how to deal with. Comparatively few people will even want all their data deleted (even if they do decide to leave mastodon) but none of us are immortal and you are going to get “RIP” incidents and will have to decide how to handle them - they are for instance not just common on “risky lifestyle” sites such as drug users forums but there are young folk with life limiting medical problems and some subjects such as amateur radio, hobby electronics attract older age groups (who are also a larger part of Mastodon than some other social networks).

In many cases folk (especially those sharing knowledge) explicitly want their content to outlive them if/when they realise they haven’t got long left.


If I delete my account, I want my toots to be deleted from my instance too, and I have a right to that under data protection laws. If someone else wants to archive them and republish them without my permission that’s not cool and also in breach of copyright law in a bunch of places. Articles about Mastodon history stuff may or may not be considered “fair use” - fair use laws vary from country to country.

Mastodon is all free and open source, and a big chunk of that is about control over one’s data, no? I don’t think Mastodon should keep our toots if we want to delete them. If people want their toots to outlive them, they can just post saying “this account is no longer active” and stop using the account.

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Can you elaborate which law mandates this?

Did copyright industry really made people believe that they “own” few words they write somewhere?

That also ignores how toots get boosted around: I’ve been able to boost toots from instances that have long since vanished because my current instance still has a copy of them. You can expect to have your posts purged from your local instance, but any expectation that they’d also disappear from any other instance is misplaced hope.


The works in which copyright can subsist are typically divided into two sub-classes. Works in the first sub-class are known as authorial works:

Original literary works;
Original dramatic works;
Original musical works; and
Original artistic works.[4]

For copyright to subsist in these works, the work itself must be ‘original’. This is traditionally seen as requiring that the author exercised skill, labour and judgment in its production.[5] Three of these works are also subject to a fixation requirement: a literary, dramatic, or musical work must be recorded.[6] It is immaterial if this was done without the author’s permission.[7]

The second sub-class of works in which copyright subsist are often known as neighbouring or entrepreneurial works:

Sound recordings;
Broadcasts; and
Typographical arrangements of published editions.[4]

If anyone says “well, toots are none of those…” I’ve seen people posting original short films and pieces of music, I’ve seen people write fiction that fits the medium of the toot (sometimes one toot, sometimes a thread), and obviously a lot of people on Mastodon post their original art.

Edit: Just realised you might have meant data protection laws. Here’s the UK one - turns out that the scope is limited and I can’t tell whether it applies to social media posts? It’s defined as “any data that can be used to identify a living individual. … Individuals can be identified by various means including their name and address, telephone number or email address.”

I am identifiable by my toots in many ways - I talk about things that make me very easy to find online even if my name were removed. I’m not lawyer enough to say for sure whether it’s covered by the DPA.

In any case, if you are allowed to manually delete all your toots one by one before you close your account it makes sense to provide a way to automate that!

Edit: Even if the law weren’t on my side, my point still stands:

Mastodon is all free and open source, and a big chunk of that is about control over one’s data, no? I don’t think Mastodon should keep our toots if we want to delete them. If people want their toots to outlive them, they can just post saying “this account is no longer active” and stop using the account.

It’s true that at the moment boosted toots are often not removed by instances they’ve been boosted to. I would like to see something from Gargron or the devs on whether or not this is ideal behaviour that will never be changed before I can comment on whether I think your point applies here. :slight_smile: This might change with the ActivityPub update thing? I am not the techiest so I don’t actually know, but maybe someone else can chip in on that. Failing that, I guess we’ll wait and see. Toots not being removed from other instances seems like a Missing Stair to me.

However, even if this is intended behaviour that will never change, people STILL HAVE THE RIGHT to delete posts from their own instance, even if those posts might not be removed from other instances. A warning could be added: “WARNING: Deleting your toots from this instance may not remove them from other instances they have been boosted to, due to the current nature of federation.”

That’s one consideration, but it opens the door to griefers. It’s happened to me where someone decides they’re going to go nuclear on their way out and destroy more than a year of posts, some of which were very helpful for the community. In situations like these, as an admin, I have to say that no way does that user get absolute and sole control the content they shared. If they want that control they can run their own service.

Their images and posts are part of the community they joined and supported. If they change their mind later I don’t think they should easily be able to tear out fundamental chunks of the thing they helped build.

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This also would depend on how exactly deletion works from a technical perspective: do the posts and media remain in the database with a deletion marker set to true or is it a hard deletion that’s triggered by the user deleting their account (or a single post)?

Are you replying to me? If so, then no, this does not affect what I’m trying to say. I do not refer to threads and replies becoming nonsensical because of a string of [deleted post] markers, but contributions to a project, to research, diagrams and code and photos all disappearing. Maybe ya gotta put it in your T&C but when my ex-user pulled this shit I went through the DB and undeleted it all, and locked out their account. Still gone, but their contributions were preserved.


imagine the same with Wikipedia - tearing out sentences out of Wikipedia articles?


In discourse, when a user want to close his account, moderators can anonymize his posts while leaving them accessible to the community.
I think it is a good solution to propose that, but I’m not sure if it is easily applicable to a decentralised system.

More widely, people need to be aware that once they have put something online, they are no longer in control of the broadcast. It doesn’t matter what platform you use. Computers are machines for copying and distributing information.


It is the same with a paper letters. You cannot expect the recipient to burn the letters because you don’t like what you wrote before.


A few points:

  • Copyright law (in the US at least) does allow creators to prohibit unauthorized use of their work (generally) but does not impose an obligation on those with an authorized copy of that work to then destroy that copy if the creator has had a change of heart.

    • For example, Adam creates a pamphlet on which they’d drawn a picture and distributes these pamphlets on a street corner all day on Monday. On Tuesday Adam decides they no longer want these pamphlets distributed. Adam cannot now demand that everybody who received a pamphlet has an obligation to destroy it for reasons of copyright.

    • However, this example arguably doesn’t match up very well with Mastodon’s architecture in which, rather than merely archiving content, it also, among other things, distributes (“publishes”) content to other instances. In this case Adam could argue that the scope of the implied license when distributing the pamphlets has been exceeded: “Here’s a picture I drew that I’m sharing only with you.”

    • But - what if Adam willingly placed the pamphlet in a box which has a sign on it which states: “Drop your pamphlet in here and it will be distributed far and wide.” In this case Adam is arguably out of luck if expecting that distribution of the pamphlet will automatically cease when physical distribution has ceased. In this case Adam has implicitly (possibly explicitly) agreed that distribution of the pamphlet will continue despite Adam’s wishes.

    • I recognize the above oversimplifies copyright, licensing, contracts, etc but hope that it helps to provide context.

    • Further complicating this discussion is the issue of evidence retention. If the admin of an instance has received sufficient notice that the content in question is necessary for civil litigation or a criminal investigation then that admin could have a legal obligation to retain the content regardless of the creator’s wishes. It is actually this last point that brought me to the discussion board today and - to avoid hijacking this discussion - will create a separate post for advice regarding message & account retention.

  • None of the above is legal advice but rather an attempt to explain, at a very high level, the legal principles involved. Although I do have a law degree I am not anybody’s lawyer! :slight_smile:

… of course, this assumes that particular toots fall under copyright at all.