Twitter has effectively shut down a popular and controversial Twitter-scraping service that allowed activists and journalists alike to keep tabs on their favorite (or not so) politicians’ and diplomats’ online activities.
Politwoops and Diplotwoops existed as a way to archive deleted tweets from politicians and diplomats. Twitter cut off their API access (in a nutshell, API access is what allows developers to create programs integrable with services like Twitter) after ruling that preserving and posting deleted tweets violated the site’s terms of service.
The OpenState Foundation immediately retaliated, claiming that the move constitutes a blow to transparency:
Arjan El Fassed (director of Open State Foundation): ‘What elected politicians publicly say is a matter of public record. Even when tweets are deleted, it’s part of parliamentary history. These tweets were once posted and later deleted. What politicians say in public should be available to anyone. This is not about typos but it is a unique insight on how messages from elected politicians can change without notice.’
Open State Foundation will continue to explore and engage with others to keep public messages by elected politicians visible. The public has rights guaranteed under many constitutions to access information that was made at least temporarily available to the public.
This is true. Anyone currently active on Twitter knows how valuable a service it can be for those who are curious about who their representatives are outside of the halls of the Capitol. In this gotcha world that we live in, deleted tweets scream “COVERUP!” and lead to more scandal than would the original tweet—which is, of course, one of the reasons why Twitter chose to axe API access.
Twitter’s response to Open State’s request for comment, however, is also valid—if not more so:
Twitter said that its decision to suspend access to Politwoops followed a ‘thoughtful internal deliberation and close consideration of a number of factors’ and that it doesn’t distinguish between users. Twitter wrote: ‘Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable? No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user’s voice.’
“Nerve-racking and terrifying” are apt descriptors for how it feels to have your every move scrutinized—and that’s why Twitter’s point will likely win the cycle even over the objections of transparency groups.
One more point that bears repeating—these services violated Twitter’s terms of service for developers:
Here’s what Twitter’s Developer Agreement & Policy document tells users (emphasis ours):
Only surface Twitter activity as it surfaced on Twitter. For example, your Service should execute the unfavorite and delete actions by removing all relevant Content, not by publicly displaying to other users that the Tweet is no longer favorited or has been deleted.
In short: Politwoops broke the rules, so it’s out, regardless of any purported public service it’s performing.
Politicians still view social media platforms and digital interaction as a risk—and rightly so; outside the hands of a skillful consultant or staffer, things can quickly go south. Some use these platforms as a bare-bones source of information, while others use them to build relationships with their constituents—but all of them choose to engage under the terms provided by the platform.
Twitter allows users to delete tweets, and wishes that those tweets stay deleted, “as an expression of the user’s voice.” The bright side? Nothing is stopping us from scouring timelines, taking screenshots, and staying engaged with our representatives online—which, at least in my opinion, is a much more informative way of holding them accountable for what they say both on and off the chamber floor.
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