We’ll forgive you if you missed the news, since it was announced on New Year’s Eve: Politwoops, the service which tracks politicians’ deleted tweets, is coming back after Twitter agreed to let it access the service’s API once again.
On Tuesday, the Open State Foundation
, the Dutch nonprofit that runs the international editions of Politwoops, said it was functioning again in 25 countries
, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Turkey. The American version of Politwoops, operated by the Sunlight Foundation, isn’t back up yet, but the foundation said in a statement
that “in the coming days and weeks, we’ll be working behind the scenes to get Politwoops up and running.”
Open State Foundation director Arjan El Fassed told me that the foundation had conversations with Twitter throughout the fall to re-establish its API access.
We had direct talks with Twitter. Very constructively, we explained what Politwoops was all about and how we included people and excluded politicians based on whether they’re elected members or formally announced candidates. How we dealt with that. Those talks continued until we came to an understanding about it.
In late October, Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey, who had assumed the CEO role earlier that month, gave a talk at Twitter’s developer conference pledging to be more transparent and improve the company’s relationship with the developer community. The conversations about the fate of Politwoops began shortly that.
“We have a responsibility to have an open dialogue with you to make sure we are serving you in the best way,” he said. “We have a responsibility to continue to empower organizations that bring more transparency to public dialogue, such as Politwoops. We need to make sure we are serving all these organizations and developers in the best way, because that is what will make Twitter great.”
Once Politwoops regained access to the Twitter API, its staffers worked to ensure its lists of politicians were accurate and up to date. The international versions of Politwoops present a feed of deleted tweets. The tweets are sortable by the time between when the tweet was sent and when it was deleted; tweets that are quickly deleted tend to be just typos, El Fassed said. The American iteration of the tool is actually edited to remove tweets that were deleted because of typos.
That’s why, when Politwoops launched in the United States in 2012, Twitter allowed it, despite initially arguing it violated its rules on deleted content, Christopher Gates, the recently departed president of the Sunlight Foundation, said in a June post:
Days after Politwoops launched in 2012, Twitter contacted the Sunlight Foundation and told us, “Your service violates our API Terms of Service on a fundamental level.” We explained the goals of the project and agreed to create a human curation workflow to ensure that the site screened out corrected low-value tweets like typos, links and Twitter handles. We implemented this layer of journalistic judgment with blessings from Twitter and the site continued.
Last May, Twitter revoked API access
from the American version of Politwoops. It waited until August to do the same for the numerous international editions
. Twitter explained its rationale at the time in a statement to my colleague, Laura Hazard Owen: “The ability to delete one’s Tweets — for whatever reason — has been a long-standing feature of Twitter for all users.” (Of course, there’s a difference between being able to delete and being able to enforce that others aren’t allowed to talk about the deleted tweet if they use the Twitter API.)
In September, a number of advocacy groups, including the Open State Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation, sent Twitter an open letter imploring the company to allow Politwoops to return. “This open letter got attention and a lot of people were unhappy,” El Fassed said.
And now as the 2016 presidential election kicks into high gear, candidates may still tweet about rooting against their alma mater in the Rose Bowl or blame an unnamed intern “who accidentally did a Retweet,” but they will certainly be more careful about what they delete — because Politwoops will be watching.