This Account Doesn’t Exist: Tweet Decay and the Politics of Deletion in the Brexit Debate

16 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2020 Last revised: 28 Dec 2020

See all articles by Marco T. Bastos

Marco T. Bastos

City University London - School of Social Sciences; University College Dublin

Date Written: November 12, 2019


Literature on influence operations has identified metrics that are indicative of social media manipulation, but few studies have explored the lifecycle of low-quality information. We contribute to this literature by reconstructing nearly 3M messages posted by 1M users in the last days of the Brexit referendum campaign. While previous studies have found that on average only 4% of tweets disappear, we found that 33% of the tweets leading up to the referendum vote are no longer available. Only about half of the most active accounts that tweeted the referendum continue to operate publicly and 20% of all accounts are no longer active. We tested whether partisan content was more likely to disappear and found more messages from the Leave campaign that disappeared than the entire universe of tweets affiliated with the Remain campaign. We compare these results with a set of 45 hashtags posted in the same period and find that political campaigns present much higher ratios of user and tweet decay. These results are validated by inspecting 2M Brexit-related tweets posted over a period of nearly 4 years. The article concludes with an overview of these findings and recommendations for future research.

Suggested Citation

Bastos, Marco T. and Bastos, Marco T., This Account Doesn’t Exist: Tweet Decay and the Politics of Deletion in the Brexit Debate (November 12, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Marco T. Bastos (Contact Author)

University College Dublin ( email )

Belfield, Dublin 4 4

City University London - School of Social Sciences ( email )

United Kingdom

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