Two services that tracked deleted tweets by politicians and other diplomats in an effort to maintain a transparent, public record of statements made on social media, Politwoops and its sister site Diplotwoops, have now been cut off from accessing Twitter. According to a post published Sunday by the Open State Foundation, Twitter revoked access to its API for Diplotwoops on Friday, as well as for all the remaining Politwoops sites in 30 countries around the world. The suspension follows that of Twitter’s takedown of the U.S. version of Politwoops in May, citing terms of service violations.
It’s actually somewhat odd that it took this long for the remaining accounts to be suspended.
The code which allowed the U.S. version of Politwoops to operate was first developed by the Dutch organization, the Open State Foundation, over three years ago. That group then shared the code with the Sunlight Foundation in the U.S., a group similarly focused on making government more transparent.
The tracking services allowed organizations and individuals, including journalists, to keep track of what politicians and diplomats were saying on Twitter by monitoring their accounts for deleted tweets.
As TechCrunch explained back in 2012 when Politwoops was first getting off the ground, the service did more than highlight what exactly was being deleted, but also indicated how long it took the politicians and their staff members to make the deletion.
In some cases, the tweets taken down were only those that had typos or were off-topic, but at other times, they served to bring to light the sorts of public comments politicians wanted to disassociate themselves from.
For example, at the time of the U.S. shutdown of Politwoops, Ars Technica noted in its coverage of the event that the service had uncovered politicians deleting their praise for Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier held hostage in Afghanistan, who was later charged with desertion.
At the time of the original shutdown, Twitter offered a statement explaining its decision in the matter, which pointed to how the service was in violation of its developer policies:
“We strongly support Sunlight’s mission of increasing transparency in politics and using civic tech and open data to hold government accountable to constituents, but preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement. Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress.”
However, despite the suspension of the U.S. version of Politwoops earlier this year, which focused on the deleted tweets of U.S. lawmakers, the Open State Foundation continued to run Politwoops in 30 countries, including the European parliament.
In addition, the list of countries also supported by the service until the API revocation were as follows: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Portugal, Egypt, Estonia, France, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, Macedonia, Norway, Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey and the Vatican.
According to the Open State Foundation’s post, Twitter said its decision to suspend access to Politwoops was due to the fact that it doesn’t distinguish between users. Or, in other words, everyone on Twitter – even if they’re a public figure like a politician – has a right to express themselves without fear that their tweets are to become permanent record. That viewpoint, of course, is somewhat in conflict with how many – including those at organizations like the Open State Foundation or Sunlight Foundation – view the statements made by public figures in the political arena.
As Sunlight Foundation president Christopher Gates stated earlier this year, “A member of Congress does not and should not have the same expectation of privacy as a private citizen. Power can only be accountable with a generous application of transparency.”
That same sentiment is mirrored now by Open State Foundation director Arjan El Fassed.
“What elected politicians publicly say is a matter of public record. Even when tweets are deleted, it’s part of parliamentary history,” he says. “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.”
The organization says it will continue to explore other ways to keep the public messages from elected politicians visible following this event, but doesn’t go into further detail.
We’ve requested comment from Twitter on the matter, and will update if they provide a statement.
El Fassed also provided us with the full message sent to his organization by Twitter on Friday. It reads in full:
As you may be aware, on June 3, 2015, Twitter suspended API access for the main US Politwoops app for displaying deleted Tweets in violation of our Developer Agreement and Policy.
This decision followed thoughtful internal deliberation and close consideration of a number of factors. Ultimately, Twitter’s decision was guided by the company’s core value to “Defend and respect the user’s voice.” The ability to delete one’s Tweets – for whatever reason – has been a long-standing feature of the Twitter service. 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.
Upon review your application has been found to be acting in violation of Twitter’s Developer Agreement and Policy, specifically:
3.B.i. Take all reasonable efforts to do the following, provided that when requested by Twitter, you must promptly take such actions: Delete Content that Twitter reports as deleted or expired.”
Twitter strives to maintain a consistent enforcement of policy for all partners on our platform, and as such we are suspending API access to keys associated with http://politwoops.co.uk/countries
Some believe Twitter’s decision in the matter extends beyond a simple desire to upload its developer policies, but is also about the company – which is struggling to grow its user base – wanting to make sure that high-profile individuals don’t feel alienated from using its service. After all, if politicians worry that everything they said on Twitter could be archived in this way, they may be less likely to use the site in the future.