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.