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Twitter hints at unblocking Politwoops accounts

Author: Adrian Offerman

Politwoops, the site that saved and republished tweets first published and later deleted by politicians, may get back its access to the Twitter API. After disabling Politwoops' developer accounts this summer, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey last week hinted that the company might restore access to the Twitter streams.

Politwoops was jointly developed by the Open State Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation. The former launched the first site in 2010 in the Netherlands and the latter brought the project to the US in 2012. Over time, additional Politwoops pages were set up, until they covered over 30 countries, following over 10,000 politicians, diplomats and embassies. There was also a page covering the European Parliament.

Although most deletions concerned typos and other small mistakes, Politwoops also uncovered deletions of tweets published by politicians while in an emotional state of mind, private tweets mistakenly published publicly, tweets that praised or associated with people or opinions that fell into disgrace later, et cetera.

Public record

Twitter blocked the US account of Politwoops in June, followed a few months later by the other accounts [1, 2, 3]. The reason the company gave for this blockade was that Politwoops violated the Terms of Service, which state that Twitter streams should be published as they currently are.

The Politwoops creators argue that politicians are public figures using Twitter in a professional capacity to interact with the public, and that all of their communications should be considered public record. Twitter is currently struggling to find a valid business model [1, 2, 3] and high-profile users such as politicians are obviously part of this model.

Last month, a coalition of over a dozen civil rights groups published an open letter to Twitter, asking the company to restore Politwoops' access to the Twitter API. We believe Twitter's decision holds grave consequences for free expression and transparency around the world, they wrote in their letter. 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.