This week the Open State Foundation, creator of Politwoops, uploaded more than one million deleted politicians’ tweets to the Internet Archive, preserving the information for the public record. The collection archives the deleted tweets of 10,404 politicians worldwide, which were published before Twitter cut off Open State’s access to its Application Programming Interface, or API. Unfortunately, Twitter still refuses to reinstate access to the API, which means that people in 32 countries can’t see what politicians are deleting right now. That’s bad news for free expression, transparency, and accountability across the globe.
Access has been working with the Open State Foundation to ask Twitter to do the right thing. We’re part of an international coalition of 50 human rights and transparency groups from five continents — including EFF, Human Rights Watch, and the Sunlight Foundation — that published an open letter calling upon Twitter to turn Politwoops back on. We’ve asked you to help us by tweeting directly at Twitter and signing our petition to support Politwoops, and thousands of you have done just that. We also reached out directly to Twitter to share our concerns, but so far have received only a polite, noncommittal response.
Politwoops is an important accountability tool. Just last week, a reporter tracking Donald Trump’s Twitter account noticed that he’d deleted a tweet from two years ago — one that made a clumsy reference to the September 11th attacks. While Trump might want to erase that gaffe, we can’t allow politicians to spin their statements after the fact. And without Politwoops, a politician who wants to rewrite the past can more easily do just that. The sheer volume of tweets — again, Politwoops tracked more than 10,000 politicians worldwide — makes it hard to track deletions unless you have some form of automation.
Librarians already recognize that tweets are an important part of public discourse that should be preserved. In the U.S., the Library of Congress began archiving all of Twitter’s tweets in 2013. It’s even more relevant now that there are calls for the current head of the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle, to become the next Librarian of Congress. We encourage Mr. Kahle, or whoever the next Librarian of Congress will be, to uphold the values that gave rise to the Internet Archive and to Politwoops, and to preserve all tweets, not just those scrubbed for the public record.
We stand with our partners in Korea, Nigeria, Mexico, Australia, Iceland, and elsewhere, who are not giving up this battle for transparency and accountability. We’ve reached out to Twitter again to arrange a meeting with Open State Foundation and other organizations that support Politwoops. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, we hope you sign our petition and stay tuned for updates on Twitter or Facebook.
photo credit: Andreas Eldh