We've heard it since day one of our Internet shenanigans: once it's out there, it's out there forever. Somehow our politicians didn't receive that same memo however. Our politicians are known for going on Twitter rants and throwing out slews left right and center, and then once in a more calm state of mine, deleting the tweets like it never happened. Well, unfortunately for them but funny for us, not anymore.
"In a win for government transparency, Twitter has reinstated API access for Politwoops, a service that automatically monitors politicians’ profiles for deleted tweets, making them visible to the public.
Last May, Twitter suspended API access to the US version of Politwoops. Three months later, it further suspended access to the remaining Politwoops sites in 30 countries, and to Diplotwoops, which monitored tweets deleted by diplomats and embassies.
At the time, Twitter said that its decision to dismantle the tool for government transparency was undertaken after “thoughtful internal deliberation.” It decided that deleting tweets was an expression of the users voice. This much is true. Journalists can sometimes learn about changes in politicians’ viewpoints by the shadows that they cast. For example, Forbes readers can draw their own conclusions about Donald Trump’s deletion of a two-year-old tweet this past 9/11. (Trump has deleted tweets in the past, including an offensive comment about Jeb Bush’s wife, an image of men in Nazi uniforms superimposed over an American flag, and a sexist comment about presidential candidate Hilary Clinton.)
More recently, Serial podcast’s second season about Bowe Berghdal included a blog postwith both carefully worded tweets about the U.S. soldier and former Taliban hostage and those that politicians wrote and then deleted, as captured by Politwoops.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey hinted about the platform restoring API access during Twitter’s developer’s conference in October, shortly after close to 50 digital rights and transparency organizations from around the world signed an open letter to Twitter in support of Politwoops.
On Twitter’s own blog post announcing the reinstatement, Access Now executive director Brett Solomon points out that Twitter is a central component of the public record in many parts of the world. “Re-establishing a mechanism to record, store and publish deleted tweets of politicians and public officials further demonstrates Twitter’s commitment to transparency and political accountability. As Twitter becomes a more important platform for political discourse, it is essential that politicians and public official’s tweets remain online and accessible to the general public. This announcement is an important step forward,” he said.
Politwoops plans to add new features, including a search filter to determine how soon tweets were deleted after posting. It also plans to expand into other countries. Furthermore, Twitter has agreed that all public officials’ tweets could be tracked, rather than just those belonging to elected representatives.
Unfortunately, El Fassed confirmed that it will not be possible to access the tweets deleted in the five months when API access was revoked. Still, this is a step forward.
After all, U.S. police officers can subpoena all of your tweets–even deleted ones–without so much as a warrant, so it’s nice that in this instance, Twitter is no longer preventing transparency from cutting both ways."