Commentary

Twitter Lets Politicians Send Tweets Down Memory Hole

Ordinary Twitter users who post ill-advised tweets have long been able to delete them from public view. But when public officials take to Twitter, the rules are different -- or used to be, anyway.  

Although the company always allowed all users -- including politicians -- to delete their tweets, it also allowed the Dutch organization Open Source Foundation to track erased tweets via an application programming interface.

On Friday, however, the Open Source Foundation said that its access to Twitter's application programming interface had been cut off in 30 countries, including Argentina, Canada, Egypt, Turkey and the Vatican. In the U.S., Twitter cut off access to the API in June.

Twitter told the Open Source Foundation that the decision was the result of a "thoughtful internal deliberation."

"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," the company reportedly said.

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Twitter elaborated to the UK newspaper The Guardian that the company wants to honor "the expectation of user privacy for all accounts ... whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress."

But the Open State Foundation says it doesn't make sense for Twitter to apply the same standards to posts by public officials as tweets by private citizens.

"What politicians say in public should be available to anyone," Arjan El Fassed, director of the Open State Foundation, stated in the organization's report about Twitter's new policy. "This is not about typos but it is a unique insight on how messages from elected politicians can change without notice."

Jules Mattsson, who runs @DeletedbyMPs -- which tracks tweets deleted by UK politicians -- told The Guardian that Twitter's move deprives people of "an important new tool in political accountability."

"Politicians are all too happy to use social media to campaign but if we lose the ability for this to be properly preserved, it becomes a one way tool," Mattsson reportedly said.

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