Deletion as Expression and Archiving Political Gaffes on Social Media

After Twitter revoked API access for accounts archiving the Tweets of politicians, digital rights activists demanded the social network reinstate what they consider an important source of accountability.

Image and reputation management are important considerations on social media: From regular users who have been victims of a lack of context, to politicians wary of saying anything at all for fear of the public social record. Twitter recently revoked the API access many archiving sites that specialized in holding politicians accountable and digital activists aren’t too happy about it.

The decision to revoke access has impacted sites in 30 countries, including sites monitoring the European and British Parliaments. The ring of accounts and sites, administered by the Open State Foundation, automatically tracked the public feeds of politicians and made deleted tweets available for the public to see.

Similarly, Politiwoops has posted a wide range of redacted tweets, some that were perhaps rightly deleted because they contained personal financial information, or others that were deleted because they reflected poorly on the poster.

According to the Open State Foundation Twitter’s reasoning behind revoking access was:

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.

However, deletion as expression when it comes to political figures in the public eye doesn’t fly in the eyes of rights organizations. In an open letter to Twitter organizations like Human Rights Watch, and the EFF, are imploring Twitter to restore access.

Their recommendations include:

  • Immediately restore access for the Politwoops tool to the Twitter API in every country around the world;
  • Convene stakeholders to develop a forward-looking API policy, or other constructive solution, that allows civil society groups to effectively promote accountability and transparency for the public interest;
  • Make clear exceptions in the “Twitter Developer Agreement & Policy” for information shared in the public interest, such as for transparency or journalistic purposes.

The issue with Twitter revoking access, in the eyes of many, is that this move works against the public interest and transparency. Retrieving deleted Tweets enabled journalists to hold politicians accountable for their words and actions. Removing this check on political speech supports the efforts of politicians to deliver carefully crafted messages wherein authentic but sometimes unpopular opinion is scrubbed from the digital record.

The organizations requesting the ability to archive deleted Tweets of politicians are the same that argue for increased user privacy. Do elected politicians and policy makers deserve the same protections as a regular user, as Twitter has said? Or are their remarks part of the public record, even if they later discover that those remarks could be held against them?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.