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Twitter just made it more difficult to hold politicians accountable

Zach Epstein
August 25th, 2015 at 8:20 PM
Politicians Twitter Gaffes

Nothing ever really disappears on the Internet. It’s both terrifying and fantastic, depending on the circumstances — and on which end of the stick you’re on. Once an article is published… once a photo is leaked… once a tweet is tweeted… it’s out there forever.

In the case of politicians who have a tendency to tweet without stopping to think first and consider the ramifications of what they’re about to post, the permanency of the Internet can help the public see these elected officials’ true colors. Interestingly, however, Twitter just made it slightly more difficult for us to hold politicians accountable — and the company used the worst possible logic in doing so.

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The Open State Foundation first had access to Twitter’s APIs revoked this past May, when the group’s main account was no longer permitted to access Twitter’s partner feeds. Now, Twitter has revoked API access from the OSF’s remaining 30 accounts.

The Foundation ran a number of Twitter accounts under the “Politwoops” brand. These accounts served a simple and important purpose: they monitored politicians’ Twitter accounts and drew attention to tweets that were posted and then deleted. The OSF had Politwoops accounts for a number of different countries, and now they have all been disabled.

“This weekend, Open State Foundation was informed by Twitter that it suspended API access to Diplotwoops and all remaining Politwoops sites in 30 countries,” the OSF said in a statement on its website. “After Twitter suspended API access for the US version of Politwoops for displaying deleted tweets of US lawmakers on May 15, Open State Foundation was still running Politwoops in 30 countries, including the European parliament. Politwoops automatically monitored politicians’ profiles for deleted tweets and made them visible. In 2014 Open State Foundation launched Diplotwoops, screening deleted messages by diplomats and embassies around the world. These sites have been extensively used and cited by journalists around the world.”

The worst part, perhaps, is the logic Twitter used in notifying the OSF that its access to APIs had been revoked. According to the Foundation, a note from Twitter included the following rationalization: “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.”


A subsequent statement from the OSF says all there is to say with regards to Twitter’s rationale:

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.

Zach Epstein

Zach Epstein has worked in and around ICT for more than 15 years, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business news, consumer electronics and telecommunications. Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news publications in the US and around the world. He was also recently named one of the world's top-10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes, as well as one of Inc. Magazine's top-30 Internet of Things experts.

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