The Washington Post

Undetweetable archives deleted tweets, gets warning from Twitter (Update)


A deleted tweet from Kay Bailey Hutchinson. (Undetweetable.)

Have you ever sent out a dumb tweet that was quickly deleted? Or maybe you sent the word “Test” out a few times to make sure this whole Internet thing really works, only to rid your feed of the clutter later?

Even if you try to delete them, those tweets may not dissipate into the Internet ether, thanks to Undetweetable.

The site archives tweets deleted by users in its database. Anyone can be entered into the database by having their Twitter username entered into a search bar on the homepage. That means that deleted tweets from politicians, like President Obama, and celebs, from Miley Cyrus to Alec Baldwin, can be publicized as well.

It’s already raising some uncomfortable questions about who owns your tweets and who controls your digital record. It’s also raising hackles at Twitter: the social media site reportedly sent Undetweetable a warning that the project violates its Terms of Service.

Thankfully for many, including a certain former representative, tweets deleted before a user is entered into the database cannot be archived. So for the time being, many pages look have this message: “@[username] has no regrets and has made no mistakes, but just give it time.”

Tweets from protected users are also off limits. But a fair game Twitter user cannot be deleted from the site, even if they ask. “You can request it, but it won't happen,” the site’s FAQ reads.

“The point of the project is to test limits, to question privacy, data ownership and explore the idea of the permanence of online expression: ‘Is anything ever deleted?’” Dean Terry, who thought the site up, told Dallas Observer blog Unfair Park. “I could write an essay about this, but I’d rather make an experience for people to experience themselves.”

There’s a random user function that allows anyone to see an assortment of complete strangers’s deleted tweets. It feels a little like going through a person’s medicine cabinet.

Archiving tweets is nothing new. The Library of Congress has been doing it for about a year. Similarly, Facebook is now only allowing users to archive messages, instead of delete them.

The question of who actually owns a tweet is complicated. Twitter’s Terms of Service reads:

You retain your rights to any Content you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through the Services, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute such Content in any and all media or distribution methods (now known or later developed).

But an entry on the Twitter blog seems to contradict this shared rights idea. It reads: “They are your tweets and they belong to you.”

Terry told Unfair Park that Twitter sent Undetweetable a warning that it violates Twitter’s Application Programming Interface, which is used for third party development. This is technically true, he conceded, but also kind of the point of the project. But Terry said he doesn’t plan on letting Twitter sue the site. “It's just not going to go that far,” he said.

So Undetweetable may only serve as brief lesson: think before you tweet.

Update: Undetweetable posted this message on its site:

Unfortunately, Undetweetable has been asked to shut down and we can no longer function without Twitter’s support. This project was meant to begin a discussion about privacy and digital identity and, thanks to the overwhelming response from users like yourself, we hope that we have accomplished that goal. For now, you may continue browsing Undetweetable, but we will no longer gather deleted tweets.

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