Twitter Reverses Ban On Tracking Politicians’ Deleted Tweets

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Twitter has reversed its much maligned decision to ban watchdog groups from automatically archiving politicians’ deleted Tweets. CEO Jack Dorsey hinted at the move in October at the company’s developer conference, Flight, where he cited the ban on Politwoops as an example of poor behavior on the company’s part towards developers. 

While he framed the issue as one of proper developer relations at Flight, Dorsey cited the importance of transparency in a statement about the decision.

“We have a responsibility to continue to empower organizations that bring more transparency to public dialogue, such as Politwoops,” said Dorsey.

Under previous management, Twitter claimed that automatically archiving deleted tweets was a violation of user rights to control their own tweets. So, it removed Politwoops’ access to Twitter’s application programming interface. 

While in theory Politwoops and others could manually track politicians’ tweets and preserve them through screenshots or copying text, access to the API was the only practical way for the service to easily identify and reveal deleted tweets. While Twitter framed the decision as enforcement of its terms of service, others saw it as something akin to censorship.

The public backlash was immediate; the Washington Post’s Philip Bump called it a “terrible decision”.

Now it appears Twitter is ready to listen to developers and watchdog groups that want to use its data in creative and socially meaningful ways. Service is supposed to be restored to Politwoops in the “coming days and weeks”, according to the Sunlight Foundation, the organization that operates the US version of the service.

It doesn’t appear that Twitter is changing its terms for developers. Instead, the company has reached an agreement with the Sunlight Foundation and the Open State Foundation, another group involved in versions of Politwoops around the world, to offer the an exception. So if you’re planning on building a service around deleted tweets, don’t assume the rules have changed—it appears you’ll first have to have a conversation with Twitter to establish how your service is in the public interest. 

This decision won’t solve all of Twitter’s problems. But it’s the fulfillment of at least one promise—and hence a step in the right direction.

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Photo by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite

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