The cool thing about Twitter is that most of the things posted on it are public. You can see what anyone is thinking about, whether they’re friends you know IRL, celebrities, or professionals you admire. But this quality isn’t just a “cool thing,” it’s … the whole point of Twitter, a fact that Twitter has possibly forgotten.
On Friday night, Twitter blocked 31 accounts owned by the Open State Foundation (a digital transparency group) that logged deleted tweets from politicians and diplomats around the world. We already knew that Twitter didn’t take fondly to these types of accounts, because it removed the Sunlight Foundation’s Politwoops U.S. account (which monitored the gaffs and revisions of American politicians) in June.
The company told the Open State Foundation that it had considered its decision carefully and said in a statement, “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.”
This is an extension of the statement Twitter gave in June about its decision to suspend Politwoops U.S. The company told Gawker:
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.
But there is extensive precedent—legally, journalistically, and generally—that public figures have a lower expectation of privacy than average people, especially when it comes to actions carried out in a public forum like Twitter.
Arjan El Fassed, the director of the Open State Foundation, told the Guardian, “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.”
There are still ways for the Open State Foundation or anyone to continue recording deleted tweets. Twitter can’t stop people from watching politician’s accounts in real time—the company can only block access to its application program interface, which was allowing Politwoops accounts to automate the process of monitoring for deleted tweets. The Guardian notes that the British Politwoops, formerly @deletedbyMPs, is continuing on its website.
Philip Bump wrote in the Washington Post in June that “the rationale for shuttering Politwoops is flawed.” But Twitter seems set on enforcing it, at least for now.