Earlier this year, Twitter made headlines—however muted—when it decided to suspend access to Politwoops, an account run by the Sunlight Foundation and overseen by the Open State Foundation (OSF), which stored tweets that U.S. politicians published but subsequently deleted.
Fast forward to August, and the social media company—which happens to be struggling on Wall Street—decided to extend that censorship to 30 sister accounts that served the same purpose for politicians in other countries like the U.K., Norway, India and Turkey, among many others.
The decision, Twitter’s executives say, was the result of careful deliberation. But ultimately, they decided that the OSF was overstepping its bounds by using Twitter’s APIs to automatically publish all tweets deleted from the accounts of politicians.
“Imagine how nerve-racking—terrifying, even—tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable?” the company allegedly told the OSF when announcing its decision to block access to the accounts. “No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user’s voice.”
Here’s the thing: While the public has certainly grown to expect more transparency from its political leaders, certainly no one is forcing them to tweet regularly. That’s the politicians own decision to remain relevant and hip with the times.
Why, then, is Twitter deciding to clamp down on folks who are just trying to shine a light into the inner-workings of politico-minded folk?
Money, Power, & Influence Reign Supreme
Twitter’s executives have continually reminded us about how their platform is the bastion of free speech. Yet somehow that commitment to transparency stops when it comes to politicians.
While most of the tweets captured by the Politwoops account were typos, misspellings, and other grammatical errors, from time to the time there’d be something considerably juicier. For example, many politicians quietly recanted their statements in support of Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier who was held as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan and eventually released in exchange for five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. (Bergdahl was later charged with desertion, hence politicians backtracking on their statements.)
Indeed, many critics and pundits are saying that Twitter made a huge mistake in deciding to censor the accounts. While it might not be that interesting when a politician makes a simple typographical error on Twitter, it sure is when he or she voices support for a cause that’s later deemed unpopular—or even unfathomable.
The World Wide Web was built on the idea that society would benefit if information was readily available to everyone. Twitter is a public platform, and everyone who knows anything about the Internet knows how quickly saying something stupid could make your world collapse. Just ask Justine Sacco.
It remains to be seen why Twitter backtracked on its claim to being the world’s largest proponents of free speech and open dialogue. Pessimistic folk might think it has something to do with pressure from Wall Street or even from the ruling class itself, many of whom are up for reelection in 2016.
In completely hypocritical news, Twitter announced that it would give brands complete access to historical tweet data, i.e., all tweets made, ever—deleted or otherwise. In doing so, the social media platform said, brands would be better able to target their customers.
While it’s true Twitter is a business and needs to make money and please its investors, it’s kind of sad to see the platform bend so blatantly for moneyed interests. After all, shouldn’t regular people be able to analyze politicians’ tweets, deleted or otherwise, so as to make the most informed choice in the next election?
So. Twitter. End this charade. Either say you only care about “free speech” when people are paying you for it, or give up the rhetoric altogether.