Twitter kills API access to Politwoops, Diplotwoops

On Friday, Twitter cut off API access to Diplotwoops and Politwoops, services that bring to light tweets deleted by politicians, diplomats and embassies.

On Friday, Twitter cut off API access to Diplotwoops and Politwoops in 30 countries.

Politwoops, which was created in 2010 at a hackathon, monitors politician accounts on Twitter and brings to light tweets that they delete. Diplotwoops, which launched in 2014, did the same thing for Twitter accounts run by diplomats and embassies.

Earlier this year, Twitter cut access to the Twitter APITrack this API for the United States version of Politwoops, and now the company has extended its action to Politwoops sites for countries that include Canada, Australia, France, Greece, Egypt and the UK.

Arjan El Fassed, the director of the Open State Foundation, which supports Politwoops and Diplotwoops, not surprisingly took issue with Twitter's decision. "What elected politicians publicly say is a matter of public record. Even when tweets are deleted, it’s part of parliamentary history. These tweets were once posted and later deleted. What politicians say in public should be available to anyone. This is not about typos but it is a unique insight on how messages from elected politicians can change without notice," he stated.

The Open State Foundation notes that in some countries "the public has rights guaranteed under many constitutions to access information that was made at least temporarily available to the public" but Twitter, being a private company, ostensibly doesn't have any obligation to enforce these rights.

Encouraging scraping?

When it cut API access to the Politwoops site in the United States earlier this year, Twitter indicated that while it supported the goal of "increasing transparency in politics and using civic tech and open data to hold government accountable to constituents...preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement." As Twitter sees it, user privacy is critical regardless of whether a user is a citizen or high-profile public servant.

That's not an unreasonable position, but the challenge for Twitter is that the interest in deleted tweets isn't going away, especially with 2016 U.S. presidential election nearing. Content posted by high-profile figures, including politicians, will be seen by large numbers of people, even if later deleted, and the likelihood that deleted content will be preserved, even in the form of screenshots, is very high.

Given the demand for deleted content, which can be embarrassing or politically damaging, it's likely that parties most interested in this content will simply go the route of building scrapers if they have to.

In other words, Twitter is fighting a technical battle it simply can't win. It is entitled to restrict access to its API, but it will never be able to keep deleted tweets dead and buried.

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