Protected Tweets? Don't Be So Sure

The Twitter account belonging to the business combination of Columbia Management and Threadneedle, made official yesterday, provides the latest illustration of the risks involved in publishing on platforms that are beyond your control. Fortunately, the specific risk in this case is likely non-existent to minimal.


We’ve been lulled into a sense of security about the protection provided by Twitter's offer to “protect" tweets.

In fact, the ability to protect tweets was an important first step in how most mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) firms became comfortable with how Twitter worked. Still today prior to announcing an account to the world, a firm will test its processes and get familiar with the system, sending tweets never meant to be communications for the public.

Other established accounts are tweaking what they’re doing including, as Columbia and Threadneedle did, renaming and even “repurposing” existing accounts. These activities can involve temporarily sidelining accounts by turning the protection on and pivoting the account with a new name, bio and redirected scope.

I'm also aware of a few accounts whose tweets have never been public and use the stream as a sort of private reading list for analysts and other approved followers.

Define Protection

Based on something I spotted yesterday, here's a note about the extent of the protection provided by Twitter training wheels.

Curious whether there was a new Twitter account handle to go with the Columbia/Threadneedle deal, I did a Google search and found the first result: @ThreadneedleAM, with the start of a tweet about the transaction.

A click on the Twitter account name brought me to a Twitter profile that showed that @ThreadneedleAM was an account whose tweets are protected. As an aside, note that Twitter doesn't use the term "protected account," protection is extended to just tweets.

But how could that be? What source was Google’s search result pulling from?

In the screenshot below, note the tiny dropdown arrow to the right of the Twitter name and the Cached box. Clicking on the box provides access to a page showing Google’s cached tweets on the morning of the day before—when, evidently, @ThreadneedleAM was still up and running. The tweet shown in the search results, from January, can be seen on the page. (The account had been tweeting as late as March 17. To show here, I just pasted the January tweet on top of the more recent tweets.) 


The above raises questions about the extent of the protection of tweets. Twitter clearly states: "Protected tweets will not appear in Google search; protected tweets will only be searchable on Twitter by the account holder and approved followers."

What I stumbled upon involved the cached tweets of an account in transition. The transition apparently involved the deletion of @ThreadneedleAM tweets and a flipping of the status of the visibility of its tweets. While I have no first-hand knowledge of the Columbia Threadneedle strategy, I'd guess their assumption was that those tweets were gone and out of sight for good.

Back to Twitter's About public and protected tweets help page, see the last sentence here: "Unprotecting your tweets will cause any previously protected tweets to be made public."

And, the dropdown arrow and the Cached box devices lead me to believe that Google sees value in cached—even if subsequently deleted—tweets.

Know The Limits

Previously, I have thought that Google’s inclusion of real-time tweets in search results (via an agreement reached with Twitter early this year) would be only positive for the investment management industry. I’m still convinced that it will significantly help lift awareness of the keyword-conscious, timely content that you’re tweeting about.

But the combination of Twitter's qualifications on the extent of protection given to protected tweets and Google's ability to display cached tweets makes the terrain a tad more bumpy. It could be trouble for otherwise unaware asset managers, financial advisors or any brands or professionals whose communications are regulated. Proceed, of course proceed, but with additional caution. Make sure you know the limits of Twitter's protection.  

This isn't about Columbia Threadneedle, of course. It just happened to provide yesterday's example.

If I worked there, I'd be thinking, "The least you could do is mention our new Twitter account name." So, here's a tweet yesterday from the new (repurposed) Columbia Threadneedle Twitter account, @CTInvest_US, and check out the newly branded Website.