Twitter shuts down tool that tracked politicians’ deleted tweets

Twitter shut down a tool which tracked politicians deleted tweets.
Twitter shut down a tool which tracked politicians deleted tweets. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Politicians no longer have to worry about their deleted tweets ever being found as Twitter blocked access to a portion of their code which allowed a foundation to keep track of tweets politicians didn’t want to be seen.

Politwoops was a website borne out of a 2010 hackathon in the Netherlands that used Twitter’s own code to track the deleted tweets of politicians in what grew to be 30 countries including Canada, the United States, and the European parliament.

But on Friday, Twitter decided to shut down access to the API which allowed the organization access to deleted tweets.

In a statement to Global News Tuesday, a Twitter spokesperson said “the ability to delete one’s Tweets – for whatever reason – has been a long-standing feature of Twitter for all users.”

“We built into our Developer Policy provisions a requirement that those accessing our APIs delete content that Twitter reports as deleted or expired.

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From time to time, we come upon apps or solutions that violate that policy. Recently, we identified several services that used the feature we built to allow for the deletion of tweets to instead archive and highlight them. We subsequently informed these services of their noncompliance and suspended their access to our APIs.

We take our commitment to our users seriously and will continue to defend and respect our users’ voices in our product and platform.”

When the site initially launched, Twitter granted the service an exception to its rule when the service agreed to add human curators who didn’t archive tweets that were deleted for simple typos.

But Arjan El Fassed, the director of the organization which oversaw Politwoops, the Open State Foundation, said in a statement on the organization’s website that “what elected politicians publicly say is a matter of public record.”

Lisa Taylor, a professor in the school of journalism at Ryerson University, agrees, saying in an interview Tuesday that this is not a question of privacy.

“We have all sorts of tough nuts to crack around social media’s possible intrusion into our private lives, but this is not private speech to begin with,” she said.

“This is something that once was put out into the world deliberately, with purpose, to share a message.”

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It’s uncommon but not unheard of for politicians to get into trouble for what they’ve tweeted. Ala Buzreba, a former Liberal candidate in Calgary Nose Hill, stepped down after tweets she sent in 2011 came to light.

The Politwoops site is still available but not active and it shows a litany of deleted tweets from as recently as Friday – the site’s last day in operation.

A screenshot of some of the deleted tweets featured by politwoops. Screenshot

Most of the tweets are innocent and wouldn’t lead to anyone getting fired, but Taylor believes its important the tweets be archived as a “first draft of history.”

“It may be vitally important to know how an individual MP thought they should present that plan or policy versus how they did once they were kind of course-corrected by someone else,” she said.

“So this loss of a first draft of history, I think is a real heartbreak, and it is a real loss.”


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