A tool was developed and launched by the Sunlight Foundation just three years ago, which aggregates and finds postings by politicians on the social media website Twitter. It then finds which of these postings have been deleted by the politicians, and logs them in a searchable database. Politiwoops, as it’s called, is “an essential tool that people in 32 countries use to hold politicians accountable for what they say publicly,” according to an e-mail sent out by the company.
Apparently, Twitter didn’t agree.
“On June 3, 2015, the Sunlight Foundation received word from Twitter that it was pulling the plug on Politiwoops, reversing an agreement made in 2012 that allowed us to run the project using its API,” a pop-up on their website states.
Twitter released a statement to Gawker, saying that “Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress.”
However, the right of privacy for a public figure continues to be questioned, especially in today’s world.
According to the court decision in Rosenfeld v. DOJ et al, which is cited on the website for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, “Persons who have placed themselves in the public light, e.g., through politics, or voluntarily participate in the public arena have a significantly diminished privacy interest than others. Thus, in most instances a public official’s or public figure’s privacy interests will be outweighed by the public interest in disclosure.”
“What politicians say in public should be available to anyone,” said Open State Foundation Director Arjan El Fassed. “This is not about typos but it is a unique insight on how messages from elected politicians can change without notice.”
Politiwoops have started a campaign to regain access and to continue what they believe is something that encourages and helps transparency among the elected. They have urged users to contact Twitter directly.
An open letter was sent to Twitter this month, signed by 40 organizations including GovTrack.us, Fight for the Future, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the ACLU, stating that “When public officials use Twitter to amplify their political views, they invite greater scrutiny of their expression. Journalists and civil society utilize tools like Politwoops to understand the views and commitments of the people these politicians represent — and the politician or candidate’s own intents and perspective. 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.”
They made a few recommendations:
“immediately restore access for the Politwoops tool to the Twitter API in every country around the world;
convene stakeholders to develop a forward-looking API policy, or other constructive solution, that allows civil society groups to effectively promote accountability and transparency for the public interest
make clear exceptions in the “Twitter Developer Agreement & Policy” for information shared in the public interest, such as for transparency or journalistic purposes
participate in multistakeholder organizations which facilitate meetings between civil society, investors, academics, and corporations on decisions impacting human rights.”
“In a rash decision, the company revoked the ability of Politwoops to archive politicians’ deleted tweets, shutting down an innovative tool that’s been used by groups around the world,” the email says. “Journalists and civil society organizations from the U.S. to Australia, and from Holland to Korea, use Politwoops to understand the positions of elected officials and candidates.”
Open State Foundation released a statement after 30 Politiwoops sites across the world were shut down.
“Politwoops began in the Netherlands in 2010 at a hackathon. Since then it has been further developed by Open State Foundation, turning it into a useful tool for journalists and spreading it to 30 countries, from Egypt, Tunisia, Greece, the UK and France to the Vatican and the European Parliament.”
So what causes a politician to delete a tweet? They might have made a grammar error, or decided to take back something they said. Maybe they attacked an opponent before deciding it wasn’t worth it. Maybe they said something inappropriate. Sometimes, it isn’t even them tweeting, and those that are don’t realize it. Here are a few examples.
Those who follow New England politics might remember that two months after former Senator Scott Brown lost his Senate seat to Senator Elizabeth Warren, he took to Twitter, responding to critics before ending his night by posting “Bqhatevwr.” The response became a hashtag that is still referenced today when other politicians post things that are seemingly by mistake.
While Politiwoops doesn’t have that Tweet logged, they do have a couple of hits by the former Senator. Here is is tweeting at a “Slim_Shady2o3,” while here it seems like he doesn’t understand how to attach a photo to twitter, and instead copied and pasted the filename.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn) was showed just how inappropriate politicians can be in April of 2013 when he was caught attempting to do something that he might have thought was flirting. “couldn’t believe how hot u were,” he Tweeted to musician Cyndi Lauper, commenting on a picture he’d taken at her concert. Appropriate for a high schooler, maybe, but not a US representative.
Shockingly, a quick search of the word “fuck” gives only one result: Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) retweeting Wil Wheaton’s excitement of a “Sharknado 2” scene.
Speaking of staffers, Elizabeth Lauten, who worked for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn) accidently linked her Pandora account to her boss’ Twitter. The result? Fincher apparently saying he loved “shagging.”
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) let her child use her phone, like any other parent. Unfortunately, they tweeted out “I scored 3934 points on Flight Command in Wreck-it-Ralph iOSkknnnnnbbnn. N jmjmmkkkkinjn mnmmjfrfg ncfhi.” Delete.
Perhaps one of the most infamous cases was in July, 2014, amid controversy that a bus of migrant children was being transported somewhere in Arizona. Social media turned into a frenzy of people looking for the bus, and complaining that it was happening in their backyard. Arizona state legislator Adam Kwasman tweeted a photo of a yellow school bus going down a road, saying that “This is not compassion, this is the abrogation of the rule of law.” He then told an Arizona Republic reporter that he saw “the fear on their faces.”
The bus was carrying local children from a YMCA.
The tweet was deleted once the Arizona Republic reporter told this to Kwasman.
Politiwoops is currently allowing anyone to download the bulk data archive of tweets in the form of a .csv file on their website.