Ethan Czahor was famous for the job he couldn’t keep.
Just a few months ago, Czahor was hired as chief tehnology officer for Jeb Bush’s campaign. But within days, Czahor resigned, but not before deleting dozens of tweets dating as far back as 2009. He says he used his feed to test out jokes while taking improv classes at The Groundlings in L.A., but this context didn’t undo the damage the inappropriate tweets had done. In the missives, screenshotted for all eternity by Buzzfeed, offensive language abounds in tweets like “most people don’t know that “halloween” is German for “night that girls with low self-esteem dress like sluts” and “new study confirms old belief: college female art majors are sluts, science majors are also sluts but uglier.” Can’t imagine why that comedy career didn’t take off!
Now, Czahor is returning to the public eye as the founder of Clear, an iOS app that flags old Twitter, Facebook and/or Instagram posts that could be considered offensive and will, upon request, delete them from your feed. Using its own algorithms with some help from the Jeopardy-winning supercomputer, Watson, Clear “performs complex analysis on each of your posts.” Delete a post from Clear and it vanishes from your social media account. On the site, Czahor, who previously co-founded Hipster.com, writes that he “created Clear to make sure situations like mine never happen to anyone again.” The app is still in beta.
According to Techcrunch, the app prowls your feeds not just for the obvious offenders — profanity, racial slurs — but “warning signs like references to racial groups or sexual orientation, and it also analyzes the general sentiment. (Next up: Analyzing blog posts and visual content.)” You swipe right on a flagged post to “clear” it, or to leave it alone in your feed, and left to delete. The language is confusing — shouldn’t “clear” mean “delete,” as the name of the app is Clear and the entire point of the app is to delete stuff? — but the mechanics are familiar, lifted straight from Tinder. Swipe left officially means rejection, just as swipe right means acceptance. This is the lexicon now, as Beyoncé predicted with “to the left, to the left” all those years ago.
The appeal of something like Clear is obvious: who among us does not do this through brute force before applying to school or for a new job, or friending a new significant other on Facebook? You Google yourself, making sure the you the entire world can see is a you that you’re not embarrassed to be. And ridding a Twitter feed of problematic jokes and opinions through brute force takes forever. One errant, badly-phrased thought should not be a bouncer between you and the rest of your life.
Take the case of Trevor Noah, newly crowned successor to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Surely he wishes he’d never tweeted gems like “South Africans know how to recycle like israel knows how to be peaceful” and “Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn’t look b4 crossing but I still would hav felt so bad in my german car!” [sic].
Stewart implored viewers to “give [Noah] an opportunity to earn that trust and respect.” Daily Show alum John Oliver insists that bad jokes are part of the process of becoming a good comedian: “You want to be embarrassed by the standards of the things you were doing [in the past],” he said at the TIME 100 Gala, because that humiliation is “part of getting better.”
So maybe it’s good that Noah didn’t delete those tweets, and that there wasn’t an app like Clear to make it easier to erase them from the record. Maybe it was important for us to see Noah’s unflattering past, considering he is inheriting a position of tremendous influence, if not technical “news” authority (though to suggest The Daily Show is “just” a comedy show is to be willfully ignorant of what that institution has become under Stewart’s leadership).
Maybe the best way to not get in trouble for racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and otherwise hateful tweets is to not post racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and otherwise hateful tweets. Considering the most dire problem on Twitter right now is arguably not that too many dudes are losing jobs over tweets they wish they’d never sent but that too many marginalized groups of people experience relentless harassment from trolls that starts on the internet and metastasizes to their offline lives, is giving people who say horrible things on Twitter the power to pretend they’ve never said those things really a great idea?
One caveat: Clear can’t stop quick users from grabbing screenshots of offensive tweets before they vanish into the ether. If you’ve got anything in the archives you don’t want anyone to see, you might want to get scrolling so you can delete it yourself. Apparently, Clear already has a wait list.