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The Demise Of 'Politwoops'

Should Twitter have killed it off?

4Jun

A couple of days ago a journalist tweeted that Queen Elizabeth had died. Although she claims that she was the victim of a cruel prank, it’s hard to believe that a journalist would leave her phone unguarded and password free.

Journalists, like Politicians, use Twitter to convey their opinions. Whilst 99% of these Tweets convey content which is acceptable for public consumption, some don’t and are quickly removed.

Unfortunately for politicians these Tweets don’t vanish into thin air.

‘Politwoops’ is a platform which allows users to see Tweets which politicians have deleted. The site’s been active since 2012 and was funded by the non-for-profit ‘Sunlight Foundation’, an organization which campaigns for government transparency.

The platform, which operated almost like a ‘secret police’, often displayed deleted Tweets which demonstrated that politicians were attempting to change their opinion on an issue.

The best example of this came when a number of American politicians welcomed the return of former Taliban prisoner of war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Once it became apparent the soldier was being charged with desertion, they all removed the Tweets. Due to the existence of ‘Politwoops’ however, the Tweets were archived.

The site relies on Twitter’s API access, and on the 1st June this was removed, leaving it unable to function. The social media giant did this because ‘Politwoop’ violated its terms and conditions

The significance of this is that Twitter, often heralded as one of the world’s most innovative companies, and one that also backs the freedom of information, is turning its back on a platform which promotes a form of political transparency.

It of course comes down to privacy and the fine-line that exists between the concept of an anonymous user and a public figure. It seems that Twitter feels that politicians should be granted the same level of privacy as the public.

Commenting on this issue, Philip Bump, a Reporter for the Washington Post, feels that Twitter has made a mistake, stating; ‘If Bill Clinton has an affair with a staffer, that's more newsworthy than if the guy who manages your grocery store does’.

Although the American version of ‘Politwoops’ is no longer with us, its British and EU counterparts are still going strong - although it remains to be seen how long this will last for.

The Guardian have reported that the removal of Politwoops is perhaps more to do with Twitter clamping down on third-party apps, which don’t operate through the official one. They cannot display adverts on third-party apps, making it a less profitable for them.

Twitter is still one of the most innovative companies in the world, but many will see its dismissal of Politwoops as a stain on its reputation. It will be interesting to see how long the EU and British versions last and also whether third-party apps have a future with the platform. 

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