Should the public have a right to remember politicians' deleted tweets?
Earlier in the summer, Twitter disappointed transparency advocates by saying no. In a controversial move, Twitter shut down a service called Politwoops, which for three years had dutifully catalogued every deleted tweet from the accounts of elected officials. Mostly, it caught mundane mistakes on a platform that most lawmakers are still figuring out how to use. But Twitter's move sparked the ire of public watchdogs (and not a few journalists) when it decided to pull the plug on Politwoops in June.
Now, Twitter is reversing course on that decision, saying it wants to "empower organizations that bring more transparency … like Politwoops." The result may soon be a revived version of Politwoops that again chronicles the social-media missteps of public officials, though perhaps in a slightly different form.
In a speech Wednesday that went out of the way to mention Politwoops, Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey apologized for alienating developers of third-party services that connect to Twitter's technology.
"Somewhere along the line, our relationship with developers got complicated," he admitted, committing to working more closely with outside organizations because "Twitter speaks truth to power" and because it promotes "conversation that the world needs to see and the world needs to have."
Twitter had previously expressed concerns over Politwoops's habit of preserving deleted tweets. In 2012, shortly after the third-party service launched, Twitter approached Politwoops's creators at the Sunlight Foundation. It said that Politwoops risked running afoul of Twitter's developer agreement, but with a few modifications, the Sunlight Foundation was allowed to continue running Politwoops "with blessings from Twitter."
Fast forward to June, when Twitter revoked Politwoops's access to its data. Twitter explained its move by again citing its developer agreement, but declined to say why it had changed its mind or why it decided Sunlight's tweaks were insufficient.
I asked the company again on Wednesday in light of Dorsey's speech, but Twitter declined to answer.
Many have pointed out a recent example of political behavior that Politwoops would have been well-positioned to detect. Last month, GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump deleted a two-year-old tweet concerning Sept. 11 that extended "best wishes to all, even the haters and losers." Political reporters seized on the move, saying this was precisely why Politwoops needed to exist — to ensure that Trump's tweet wouldn't be lost to the memory hole.
The Sunlight Foundation isn't wasting any time dwelling on the past. It says it's looking forward to working with Twitter again.
"This opens the door to conversation," said Sunlight communications director Jenn Topper.