Twitter Just Cut Off Politwoops In Another Effort To Keep The Platform Closed

from the twits dept

Mike recently made the case that in the information age, platforms would do better to be open rather than closed. Being open means allowing that thing you started to branch off in many directions making you more useful to more people. Being closed means you get control. Yay. One of the examples of a platform that had initially been open and has since been becoming more closed is Twitter. What once began as a platform that was built up by users and outside groups all making even better use of Twitter than Twitter had managed for itself, has since devolved into stories of staunch refusal to allow the evolution to continue.

The most recent example of this is, sadly, that Twitter appears to have eighty-sixed Politwoops, the wonderful project for preserving the tweets deleted by government officials and public officials.

Twitter’s decision to pull the plug on Politwoops is a reminder of how the Internet isn’t truly a public square. Our shared conversations are increasingly taking place in privately owned and managed walled gardens, which means that the politics that occur in such conversations are subject to private rules. (In this case, Twitter’s terms of service for usage of its API.) 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.

We are truly mystified as to what prompted the change of heart, and it’s deeply disappointing to see Twitter kill a project they had supported since 2012. It is also disturbing to us that our feed was cut almost three weeks ago and our only direct communication came from Twitter last night, when we were told that their decision was not something that we could appeal, and, most surprisingly, they were not interested in reviewing any of the email conversation from 2012. Clearly, something changed — and we’re not likely to ever know what it was.

You can sense the boiling anger and pure confusion beneath the surface of the text. Twitter, which had been fully aware of what Politwoops was, did, and why, had allowed the service to operate for years and then suddenly pulled the plug for the same reason it gave initially before dismissing that reason. This would be enough to infuriate any developer, nevermind one focused solely on creating more openness and accountability. It must feel like a slap in the face to the Sunlight Foundation to have the opposite of their aims be utilized in the shuttering of their service.

That said, why did Twitter do this? Well, in a statement to Gawker, who had reported on the topic, Twitter indicated this was all about user privacy.

Earlier today we spoke to the Sunlight Foundation, to tell them we will not restore Twitter API access for their Politwoops site. We strongly support Sunlight’s mission of increasing transparency in politics and using civic tech and open data to hold government accountable to constituents, but preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement. Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress.

Which tells us nothing, exactly as I’m sure Twitter intended. This is simply a recitation of the excuse, not the reason why the decision made in 2012 suddenly got reversed with very little communication to the Sunlight Foundation. So what’s the answer?

Control, of course. The doors that close on once-open platforms operate on greased hinges, it seems, where the smallest thrust on those doors causes them to slam shut. Twitter is allowed to do this, of course, but closing the platform that still uses the “@” symbol and retweets, both conceived of by people outside of Twitter, isn’t a recipe for continued relevance.

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Companies: sunlight foundation, twitter

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Comments on “Twitter Just Cut Off Politwoops In Another Effort To Keep The Platform Closed”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Tinfoil hat time?

I don’t think so. I don’t think an actual complaint from a public figure is necessary.

A public figure would just stop using Twitter. I think Twitter knows this and just preemptively killed the project to make sure that 2016 candidates would want to use Twitter.

Anonymous Coward says:

We need open source

It’s a shame to see this behavior, along with an app which is effectively malware, and practices of selling user data and invasive advertising but it’s par for the course when it comes to proprietary software.

Communications platforms like Twitter are too important to have their content controlled by a single actor. Distributed, open source software is what made the Internet the free and open platform it is today. It’s also necessary for its long term health, and although the alternatives to Twitter like leave a lot to be desired, they’re worth supporting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We need open source

We’ve HAD open source for 36 years, since Usenet was founded. Learn it. Use it. No, it’s not full of pretty icons, and yes, you might actually have to learn something, but it was and still is so vastly superior to transient operations like Twitter that it’s not even worth discussing the point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: We need open source

“Communications platforms like Twitter are too important to have their content controlled by a single actor. “

It’s Twitter’s product. Who do YOU suggest should control it, and why? They chose to float it and people are free to choose whether to become shareholders. If you don’t like what they do then you have choices:

1/ Get elected to the board. Or become an interested investor and attempt to influence other investors to see your point of view.

2/ Use another product.

3/ Write your own. If it’s good enough people will use it. Then you too can be rich and as obnoxious as you like about what you do with YOUR product.

Last time I checked using Twitter wasn’t compulsory. Same for Facebook, Google, and others. Make a better mousetrap and soon people will be saying the same thing about yours (would you be happy that control of your product was removed from you because the anonymous internet voted it so?)

“what made the Internet the free and open platform it is today”

So free you and anyone else can set up new offerings. Go ahead. Why wait for someone else?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: We need open source

I’m talking about communications infrastructure in the abstract, not calling for some takeover or regulation of Twitter.

>Who do YOU suggest should control it

No one, communications technology should use open standards like email, HTTP, and SIP (VoIP) which allow anyone to set up their own system that is compatible with the wider network and by their nature check the power of gatekeeper service providers like Twitter.

The problem is that Twitter was never as open as some people like to think.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's not (only) about control, it's about creating an additional revenue stream

I’ll give credit to the PR person who came up with the timely “privacy” angle though, that’s pretty clever.

They still allow access to their “firehose” (all tweets), but now you’ll have to pay a premium for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Communications platforms like Twitter are too important to have their content controlled by a single actor. “

Well who are the ones who let Twitter become such an “important communications platform” in the first place?
We the (dumb) people are those who put power in the hands of these media platform companies in the first place.
Given humanity’s history we should know better than to trust media channels with not selling out to big players. After all “fool’s gotta eat”…

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