X/Twitter glitch erases most photos posted to the platform before Dec 2014

Aug 21, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

X/Twitter glitch erases most photos posted to the platform before Dec 2014

Aug 21, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at this, really. The transition from Twitter to X hasn’t exactly gone smoothly since Elon Musk took the reins in October 2022. Musk’s takeover actually seems to be just one disaster after another.

The latest blunder means that any images you posted to Twitter before Christmas 2014 now probably no longer exist. A glitch has apparently caused all images and links from 2014 to show up as broken elements or missing entirely.

The issue appears to have been spotted by user Tom Coates. He posted a very long post chain, with updates on his observations and many responses from others. But the short version is, they’re gone, they’re probably not coming back (unless you’re a celeb).

Sure, you’ve still got nine years of photos hosted by X, but in those early days, it wasn’t so easy to back up your phone. Getting photos off them was often difficult. Some social media platform around then might be the only place in the world where many early digital images still exist.

According to The Verge, the glitch dates back to “enhanced URL enrichment” features introduced to Twitter in 2016. This allowed Twitter to show link previews and native attachments that didn’t count against the 140-character limit.

In March 2012, the expanded URL enrichment was introduced. Before this time, the Tweet payloads included only the URL as provided by the user. So, if the user included a shortened URL it can be challenging to match on (expanded) URLs of interest. With both Historical PowerTrack and the Search APIs, these metadata are available starting in March 2012.

In July 2016, the enhanced URL enrichment was introduced. This enhanced version provides a web site’s HTML title and description in the Tweet payload, along with Operators for matching on those. With Historical PowerTrack, these metadata become available in July 2016. With the Search APIs, these metadata begin emerging in December 2014.

In September 2016 Twitter introduced ‘native attachments’ where a trailing shared link is not counted against the 140 Tweet character limit. Both URL enrichments still apply to these shared links.

X Developer Platform Data Dictionary

These “enhanced URL enrichment” features are the primary suspect as a contributing factor for the latest glitch because the metadata for these new changes began outputting in December 2014. The apparent cut-off date for the new glitch. So, anything without this metadata appears to be gone.

Not all of the images on Twitter seem to have gone forever. The famous Oscars selfie by Ellen DeGeneres – at the time, the most retweeted tweet ever – had reportedly disappeared, but it has since been restored. Of course, most of us aren’t Ellen DeGeneres, so our missing images may not be restored.

I suspect that restoring all of these images is pretty low on Elon’s to-do list. After all, it’s almost nine years ago. It’s ancient history. Nobody’s going to miss them, right? I’m sure we’ll see more celebrity images restored so that Elon doesn’t lose his $11/mo for each of those Verified badges, but I expect that the rest of us are just going to be out of luck.

We often think that when we post stuff to social media or “the cloud”, it’s safe forever. After all, the Internet never forgets, right? Funnily enough, while searching for a link to reference “the Internet never forgets”, there’s this gem mentioning Twitter from 2013.

The problem is, it’s not safe forever, as Musk has proven over the last few months – as have others over the years. Make sure to back up your phone, your cameras, everything, if you want to ensure you have it forever.

Even hosted remotely in a location you think is safe, your photos could all be gone in the blink of an eye due to a “glitch” that was almost a decade in the making.

[via The Verge]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “X/Twitter glitch erases most photos posted to the platform before Dec 2014”

  1. Melon Usk Avatar
    Melon Usk

    Now also remove the photos posted after Dec 2014 and we’re finally done.