Why this UK public figure deleted 50K tweets in a day

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The name Toby Young has been plastered all over Brits’ Twitter feeds this week after he was appointed the UK’s new universities regulator — a position created by the government to uphold free speech at third level, among other things.

But just days after his appointment, Young deleted a huge chunk of his digital footprint. All in the space of a day. 

We’re not talking about the deletion of the odd misjudged tweet posted during one’s early adulthood. 54-year-old Young deleted nearly 50 thousand tweets in a day in an effort to erase racist, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, and sexually explicit tweets, some of which date back to 2009.  

Young—a right-wing commentator and free schools campaigner—was appointed to the Office for Students (OfS), the UK’s new university watchdog, on 1 Jan. Since then, people have been tweeting screenshots of tweets posted prior to his appointment, with many questioning if he’s fit for the job. 

More than 100K people have signed an online petition imploring Prime Minister Theresa May to sack Young from his new position. Amid this outcry, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson defended Young on Twitter, stating he’d bring “caustic wit” to the job, for which he’s the “ideal man.” 

Johnson’s mentions were subsequently flooded with screenshots of the offending tweets, many of which contain extremely offensive and coarse language. 

Many have called out Young’s use of racist, homophobic and sexist language in his tweets. 

Young posted many tweets making lewd comments about the physical appearance of high-profile women. 

Young issued a statement in a Twitter thread on 3 Jan., defending himself against the “controversy” surrounding his recent appointment. 

Young described the offensive comments as “politically incorrect,” and that it’s ironic that people are stating he’s “unfit” to serve on the board of the OfS. 

He also used the words “sophomoric” and “silly” to describe his tweets, some of which, he says, he regrets. But he also believes that people have chosen to “deliberately” misinterpret to portray him as “a caricature of a heartless Tory toff.” 

He also added that he’s a “supporter” of women’s rights and LGBTQ rights—despite what his tweets might suggest. 

While Young might think there’s an “irony” about his right to free speech online, but as political journalist Marie Le Conte points out, there’s a difference between “merely having offensive opinions” and “deciding to tweet and write publicly relentlessly about them.”

Here’s a pro-tip for you Toby Young: Expressing a view on Twitter is tantamount to writing in indelible ink. And, people always keep the receipts. 

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