Four months after being banned by Twitter, Politwoops is coming back.
If you’re not familiar with it, Politwoops is a kind of social media watchdog. It automatically monitors the Twitter feeds of politicians and highlights whenever they delete a tweet. Sometimes these are just typos — but other times it caught 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.
However, in August, Politwoops was banned globally from Twitter after the social network revoked its API access.
Twitter justified the decision on the grounds that it violated the Developer Agreement, which requires services not to point out when material is deleted. “Imagine how nerve-racking — terrifying, even — tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable?” Twitter said in a statement. “No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user’s voice.”
However, the decision provoked outrage, with rights groups arguing that politicians have a different — lesser — expectation of pricacy than other Twitter users. A coalition of rights groups, including Human Rights Group, the Open State Foundation (which created the original tool), the EFF, and others, argued: “In this case, the citizen’s right to freedom of expression — which includes access to information — outweighs the official’s right to a retroactive edit.”
We got a sign that things could change in October, when the newly-instated CEO Jack Dorsey discussed Twitter’s relationship with developers and said the site has “a responsibility to communicate our roadmap in a clear and transparent way to everyone in this community.”
Dorsey specifically called Politwoops out by name, saying: “We have a responsibility to continue to empower organisations that bring more transparency to public dialogue, such as Politwoops. We need to make sure we are serving all these organisations and developers in the best way, because that is what will make Twitter great. We need to listen, we need to learn, and we need to have this conversation with you. We want to start that today.”
In a blog post published on Thursday, Twitter said that it has “come to an agreement” with The Open State Foundation and The Sunlight Foundation, which administered the US version of Politwoops, about the watchdog.
In short — Politwoops is coming back.
“This agreement is great news for those who believe that the world needs more transparency,” said Arjen El Fassed, director of Open State Foundation in a statement. “Our next step is now to continue and expand our work to enable the public to hold public officials accountable for their public statements.”
Brett Solomon, exec director of advocacy group Access Now, said: “In many parts of the world Twitter is a central component of the public record. 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.”
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