Human Rights Watch, Transparency Groups Condemn Twitter’s Politwoops Ban

An open letter asks Twitter to restore API access to a service that automatically saved politician’s deleted tweets.

Human Rights Watch, Transparency Groups Condemn Twitter’s Politwoops Ban
[Photo: Flickr user Giuseppe Milo]

Last month, Twitter revoked access to its API from Politwoops, a network of sites that automatically archived the deleted tweets of politicians.


Twitter’s rationale was that deleting tweets is an “expression of the user’s voice” and that “no one user is more deserving of that ability than another,” the company wrote in a note to Open State Foundation, creator of Politwoops.

Open State Foundation, however, argues that the social media posts of politicians should be part of the public record, whether or not they are later deleted.

Twitter’s protest that everyone has the right to expunge a tweet is somewhat disingenuous; because tweets can easily be copied, quoted, and captured by screenshot, nothing posted to Twitter is truly retractable.

This week, 17 human rights organizations (including Human Rights Watch, Free Press, and Open State Foundation) published an open letter protesting Twitter’s decision to revoke Politwoop’s API access. The coalition writes in the letter:

Twitter’s reasoning conflates transparency and accountability with privacy. We agree that when users decide to delete tweets they are engaging in expression—but add that the public has a compelling interest in the expression of public officials. Recognizing this public interest, courts have long held that public officials do not receive the same treatment for privacy. Further, 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.

The letter urges Twitter to immediately restore API access to Politwoops, develop a policy to allow civil society groups to “promote accountability and transparency for the public interest” in the future, and adapt the Twitter Development Agreement & Policy with exceptions for public interest information. The coalition also urges Twitter to “facilitate meetings between civil society, investors, academics, and corporations on decisions impacting human rights.”

[via The Verge]

About the author

P. Claire Dodson is an assistant editor at Fast Company. Follow her on Twitter: @Claire_ifying.