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Freedom of Speech or Silence - Twitter vs. Politwoops

Washington Post
Should everything you say online be held on record? Should you always, invariably be accountable for every status update, blog post and tweet? No, not all of them, but depending on what kind of work you do and what kind of responsibilities you have, some of your online activity should be open to scrutiny whether you want it to be or not.

This, at least, is the view of the Open State Foundation, a non-profit that champions the fight for political transparency online. On Twitter, the front line of that is Politwoops, a cluster of accounts dedicated to archiving the deleted tweets of politicians. Running alongside that is Diplotwoops, which was, as you might have guessed, geared towards doing the same thing for diplomats and embassies. Twitter didn't exactly agree with that reasoning, having shut the US version of Politwoops down back in June, and on Friday a larger shut-down meant that Politwoops is effectively out of action worldwide. Diplotwoops has been similarly castigated.

In an oddly direct statement regarding the matter, Twitter made the point that saving deleted tweets represented unfair treatment of the selected users. 'Imagine how nerve-racking — terrifying, even — tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable?' The statement read. 'No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user’s voice.'

The OSF were not thrilled with the decision, and they hit back, arguing that anything a politician says on Twitter is a matter of public record and should be treated as such. With deleted tweets, it treads something of a fine line, some of them are deleted because of misinformation, or news that's since been rendered inaccurate, but other times it can be an angry outburst or a poorly judged statement that can send the wrong message. It's hard to judge which of those are beneficial to investigative journalists and which are just fodder for desultory smear campaigning, even on a case by case basis, so it really is a matter of all or nothing.


One could argue that it's down to politicians to learn how to approach social media when they campaign, and expect to be called out when they make mistakes, but the divide between personal and professional social media activity is still extremely blurred, many politicians are only active on social media as a necessity. Politicians who contradict themselves should be called out on it, that's a given, not to embarrass them but to see how they react when hit with an unexpected question, sadly sometimes political transparency has to be enforced. Politwoops provided a strong reinforcement for that.

Twitter, meanwhile, still maintain (having released a second statement on Monday) that accounts using a function that highlights and stores deleted tweets directly violates the site's terms of use. It's difficult to argue with that, and you can see where in other contexts it might be abused. The example that springs to my mind is that of Spanish footballer Julio Rey, who had his contract with Deportivo scrapped because of a tweet he posted when he was 17. The 'right to be forgotten' campaign will continue to rage on, but politics is another matter. There are other ways to make sure even deleted tweets remain on record, the most direct is to just keep close watch of political pages and take regular screenshots of each new tweet, but for obvious reasons that's a far more laborious task.

The issue is not online privacy, so much as what constitutes an 'official statement' in the age of information. Historically, whatever platform news reaches the fastest becomes the most heated centre of political debate and right now, that's Twitter. Should politicians be open to intense scrutiny purely because of the position they're in? No, but should any politically relevant statements they make, in any public context, remain on record? Absolutely they should.


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Freedom of Speech or Silence - Twitter vs. Politwoops Reviewed by Callum Davies on Thursday, August 27, 2015 Rating: 5
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