Twitter just banned an incredibly useful tool for holding politicians to account

Twitter has killed off Politwoops and Diplotwoops globally — a series of accounts that automatically monitored politicians’ profiles for deleted tweets and published them.

In June this year, the social network revoked the API access of the US version of Politwoops, leaving it unable to function. In a statement, Twitter said that the service “violates our developer agreement.”

Strangely, at the time it was only the US version of Politwoops that was banned. It was first developed by Danish non-profit the Open State Foundation in 2010, and operated in 30 other jurisdictions, including Britain and the European Parliament.

These versions of the platform were left to run unhindered — until this weekend.
In a blog post published on Sunday, the Open State Foundation confirmed that Twitter has decided to revoke API access for the remaining versions of Politwoops and and Diplotwoops.

Politwoops and Diplotwoops were a kind of social media watchdog. Sometimes the deleted tweets they flagged up were just typos; other times, they revealed politicians trying to distance themselves from prior statements or shift their position on an issue.

In one high-profile incident, Politwoops was able to highlight half a dozen politicians welcoming a US soldier and former Taliban captive back to the US — and then deleting their tweets after the case became politically charged.

I spoke to Nicko Margolies, who managed the US version of Politwoops, last year. He said the service aimed to “empower journalists and citizens to keep public officials accountable,” and that it “allows you to see the full picture of a politician’s public statements, rather than just the current version of their talking points.” So why is Twitter cracking down on it?

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.

In a statement justifying its decision, Twitter told the Open State Foundation that it decided to ban Politwoops globally after a “thoughtful internal deliberation and close consideration of a number of factors … 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.”

However, when the US version of Politwoops was banned, some people pointed out that, as public figures, politicians have a different — lesser — expectation of privacy than others on the platform. Branding Twitter’s ban in June a “terrible decision,” Philip Bump made this argument in The Washington Post. He wrote:

An anonymous user is not a public figure; a member of Congress is. The former has a high expectation of privacy, as what he says and does is not newsworthy. The latter — according to a lot of legal precedent — doesn’t enjoy the same privilege. If Bill Clinton has an affair with a staffer, that’s more newsworthy than if the guy who manages your grocery store does.

In a statement, Open State Foundation director Arjan El Fassed said that “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.”

Business Insider has reached out to Twitter for comment and will update this story when it responds.

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