Twitter's Excuse For Shutting Down Services That Highlight Deleted Politicians' Tweets Is Painfully Ridiculous

from the that's-just-wrong dept

A couple months ago, we wrote about Twitter shutting down Politwoops, a service from the Sunlight Foundation that highlighted tweets that politicians had posted... and then deleted. This was a useful tool for transparency, showing what kinds of tweets politicians delete. Frequently it was silly things like typos, but sometimes it caught and highlighted really ridiculous statements by politicians that they should have thought more about first. Twitters reasoning behind this made no sense at all at the time, claiming that it was about "honoring the expectation of user privacy." That's wrong. If you tweet publicly, there is no "expectation of privacy." You have done something publicly.

This weekend, this whole situation got more attention, as Twitter similarly shut down a number of similar services, including foreign instances of Politwoops run by the Open State Foundation. Once again, Twitter gave a reason... that made absolutely no sense:
Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable? No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user’s voice.
This is worse than the original reason. First of all, that's not terrifying at all. That's how life is, every day. You say something, people hear it/see it and they can repeat it or call you out on it if they disagree. And you can have a discussion. And, of course, you can later change your words, admit you made a mistake, or, yes, delete your tweet. But people might notice that. And that's fine. It's not terrifying. There's nothing "immutable" or "irrevocable" about Politwoops highlighting things that actually happened.

As for the next two lines, again, it makes no sense. There is nothing in Politwoops that makes one user "more deserving" of any ability than any other. Anyone can delete tweets. And anyone who saw the original tweet can call it out and highlight it. Yet, for whatever reason, Twitter has decided that it wants to give extra special protections to some users, by claiming that it's an abuse to actually build a system to automate such things. This is the opposite of enabling free speech. It's stifling it.

And, yes, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user's voice -- as is having someone highlight what you deleted. That's how this works. This move is profoundly disappointing by Twitter -- a company that regularly positions itself as a champion of free speech and being engaged in the political process.

Politicians say stupid stuff all the time (as does pretty much everyone). And people call them out on it. And no one ever argues that's an invasion of their privacy... except, apparently, Twitter. Once again, this is a reminder of why we should be focused on protocols instead of platforms for the services that enable free expression. When we rely on platforms, we have to live by their rules.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, 24 Aug 2015 @ 11:57am

    How not to be a sharecropper

    That's Tim Bray's title for this piece: https://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/07/12/WebsThePlace which is now 12 years old and focused on software platforms; but the same thing is true of "social media" platforms. Anyone laboring under the massive delusion that they have free speech on Twitter, or Facebook, or any other corporate profit center is making a massive mistake. Those companies can, and will, crush that speech out of existence the moment that it's in their financial interest to do so.

    So yes, protocols over platforms. Web sites, mailing lists, wikis, Usenet newsgroups may not be as fashionable but they are vastly more permanent and far more resistant to censorship.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Aug 2015 @ 12:41pm

      Re: How not to be a sharecropper

      ...Usenet newsgroups may not be as fashionable but they are vastly more permanent and far more resistant to censorship...

      Notwithstanding your other examples which have their own weaknesses Usenet has one weakness other platforms don't: it's too susceptible to binary corruption resulting in incomplete or unviewable posts.

      And Usenet once in a while purges one or more groups and starts anew. That might cause a censorship claim despite the fact that everybody's posts got deleted.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rich Kulawiec, 24 Aug 2015 @ 12:47pm

        Re: Re: How not to be a sharecropper

        1. Well-run news servers don't have frequent/many problems with corrupt or missing postings. There are numerous ways to detect and correct such errors. (Of course that doesn't mean that everyone uses them.)

        2. Yes, newsgroups in the Big 8 get deleted from time to time: but that doesn't mean that their archives do. Nor does it even mean that their "live" versions are affected, since anyone running a news server can set it to NOT honor newsgroup removal messages automagically.

        Usenet has its issues -- for example, it's still susceptible to various kinds of flooding attacks. But since it belongs to everyone and no one, it's not susceptible to the kind of manipulation that Twitter's engaging in.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chris ODonnell (profile), 24 Aug 2015 @ 12:02pm

    Chris' Law

    Any web service with a profit motive will eventually screw its users while appeasing a well funded minority of the user base.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Aug 2015 @ 12:04pm

    Well, the official reason why these services were shut down is because they violated the terms of service of the APIs, but why let facts get in the way?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Aug 2015 @ 12:28pm

    "suspended API access" = the hazard of relying on "open source": CAN BE CUT OFF ENTIRELY AT ANY TIME.

    Corporations yanking away "free" services is not new or surprising, it's just that you know who thinks it's a mistake. He's stuck in 1997 idealism and doesn't look at actual history.

    "Open source" basically works only for a few dedicated hobbyists who don't expect to get rich. -- Before you all scream, "BUT LINUX", take into account that SEVENTY PERCENT of current work on Linux is paid for by corporations which aren't altruistic, but are slowly taking Linux to pay models, besides sneaking in god knows what spying. -- Whoever is doing GUIs and "features" in Linux now seem dedicated to making them unusable. Don't get me started.

    Anyhoo, the 140 character version: I've always hated Twitter and expect to forever. The more "communication" between idiots, the stupider society becomes, iron law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Aug 2015 @ 12:43pm

      Re: "suspended API access" = the hazard of relying on "open source": CAN BE CUT OFF ENTIRELY AT ANY TIME.

      suspended API access = can't login/connect to service.

      Not sure why you are bringing open source into this?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Aug 2015 @ 1:00pm

        Re: Re: "suspended API access" = the hazard of relying on "open source": CAN BE CUT OFF ENTIRELY AT ANY TIME.

        Anything that smells like an anarchy just sears deep wounds into his authoritarian soul.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Gwiz (profile), 24 Aug 2015 @ 1:04pm

        Re: Re: "suspended API access" = the hazard of relying on "open source": CAN BE CUT OFF ENTIRELY AT ANY TIME.

        Not sure why you are bringing open source into this?


        Because Blue's cognitive skills have been deteriorating rapidly lately.

        Wouldn't surprise me if he started blaming the recent influx of gray squirrels in his neighborhood on Twitter or Google.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 Aug 2015 @ 1:02am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Because he somehow wants to tie in why copyrighting APIs is a good idea. Apparently it's because open source is antithetical to copyright, and open source things can be suddenly shut down...

          Because clearly things have never been shut down before based on someone screaming copyright law. ("What's that? Megaupload? That thing I've been cheering the destruction of every article I post in? Never heard of it! Here, have more meaningless lines and algorithms!" - quote from blue, loose translation from Asshole. To be fair if blue's Asshole was any looser it would probably fall off.)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 25 Aug 2015 @ 4:51am

      Re: "suspended API access" = the hazard of relying on "open source": CAN BE CUT OFF ENTIRELY AT ANY TIME.

      "Corporations yanking away "free" services is not new or surprising, it's just that you know who thinks it's a mistake. "

      Like the free service you insist on abusing here?

      ""Open source" basically works only for a few dedicated hobbyists who don't expect to get rich. -- Before you all scream, "BUT LINUX", take into account that SEVENTY PERCENT of current work on Linux is paid for by corporations which aren't altruistic"

      Wait... so... open source only works for hobbyists - apart from all the Fortune 500 companies that use it extensively who pay for the majority of its development.

      Even by your standards, that an insane amount of cognitive dissonance.

      Oh, and surely you know that while Linux is open source, the vast majority of open source is not Linux? In fact, you're almost certainly using at least open source product to post your drivel right now - many such products, if you venture onto the server side of things, not to mention the open protocols you're depending on.

      "slowly taking Linux to pay models"

      Certain distributions, yes. As is permitted by the FOSS licences involved, so long as they honour the other parts of that licence. Are you claiming that your heroes are violating a licence protected by copyright, or are you in an insane fictional reality once again?

      "Anyhoo, the 140 character version: I've always hated Twitter and expect to forever."

      In that case, the sane response would be "I don't use it", not "I'll rant against it and unrelated issues in a way that make me look unhinged".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Aug 2015 @ 12:31pm

    Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable?

    Any tweet is immutable and irrevocable once it get into a states database, which is why the surveillance state is so terrifying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    metalliqaz (profile), 24 Aug 2015 @ 12:34pm

    The real reason

    Twitter wants their platform to be the global soapbox, especially for corporations, celebrities, and politicians because they are the ones that bring in the dollars. If politicians can't edit their history in their own favor, they won't use the platform.

    This is a purely financial move, plain and simple. If you think Twitter really cares about the terror of having your posts be forever, ask yourself what they would do if handed a request from law enforcement to get a history of a user's past tweets. They'd hand it over with a smile on their face.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 24 Aug 2015 @ 12:41pm

    Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – speaking would be if it was immutable and irrevocable? No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, rewriting history to 'un-speak' something is an expression of the user’s voice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 24 Aug 2015 @ 12:43pm

    Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – life would be if you couldn't go back and alter history at a whim.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Aug 2015 @ 1:21pm

    they've been threatened with something, maybe it was something they said. maybe it was 'immutable and irrevocable' so they had to remove it because 'no one user is more deserving than another'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 24 Aug 2015 @ 1:47pm

    Nerve wracking and terrifying?!?

    Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable?

    Uh, not very? Holy hyperbole, Batman. Get a grip. This isn't War And Peace we're talking about here. It's a ca. hundred characters per tweet. BFD if that goes missing. It's not like there aren't a thousand or so better ways to get the word out on anything that actually matters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Aug 2015 @ 2:10am

    Honestly, the ability to delete a tweet is, in my opinion, a bad thing, even for the people who delete them. A deleted tweet just allows critics to leap onto what it used to say and criticise it on its face.
    Far better to allow users to "update" tweets (not to edit them), by building in a link to a redaction or explanation (or apology).
    Similarly, the ability of any organisation to throw older versions of their public output down the memory hole (looking at you, online news services who delete "breaking" stories that later turn out be be filled with false claims and inaccurate garbage) should probably be (voluntarily) curtailed in favour of apologies and corrections...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TestPiliotDummy, 25 Aug 2015 @ 3:31am

    Politicians?
    Lies?
    Spies?

    At some point I just want to take out a baseball bat like in the walking dead.

    Who the fuck does anyone even CONSENT to?
    Have you found someone that you like so much that you are willing to give your consent back to this system?

    Oh and I just have to ask,
    Where the fuck are you getting your JUSTICE FROM?

    I don't see anyone I want running my government.

    Certainly nobody I TRUST. T

    hey are all a bunch of treasonous liars. Even the SPYCRAFT is compromised. I would never trust the pentagon EVER AGAIN unless I personally got to clear the halls. (And theres a LOT OF SHIT I WANT GONE Starting with a SHIT TON OF DUAL CITIZENS FROM ISRAEL)

    I say let this system burn to the ground and start over, focusing on not letting ANY of these criminals "CoG" the new start. IF they CoG the new start. Then I don't even want to live. JUST KILL ME NOW.

    I want this country to be a Constituional Republic again.
    Others want it to be a LGBT FREE SHIT ARMY. You don't care about when I get pissed off there are 36 agencies spying on the DMS codes generated from obamacare, or that they want to use Mental Health to grab guns. You just want your free shit (like a manipulator trying to get $20 to go bowling from mama), not FREEDOM--perhaps this corporate media has so dumbed you down to the responsibility that COMES with independence.

    therein lay a deep truth.
    You can't sit on your ass and not be turned into a slave in one form or another--so do NOT TALK TO ME ABOUT ETHICS..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 25 Aug 2015 @ 4:55am

    "Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable?"

    Not at all. Possibly because I understand how the public internet works and how this is true for almost everything said on here. Mind you, I am also a relatively private person who is not prone to speaking in public without thinking about consequences, and I'm capable of saying "yeah, I was wrong about that".

    Which is presumably why I'm not in politics.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kevin Burton, 25 Aug 2015 @ 9:02am

    Not about users.. it's about corporations.

    It's more about corporations/advertisers and the ability to delete stupid tweets and FORCING the ecosystem to implement that feature.

    This is so that they don't scare away advertisers.

    If US Airlines or Delta say something stupid by accident, they want to delete it...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 26 Aug 2015 @ 6:58am

    Web site

    Can't you access public tweets on the web without a login? What stops Politwhoops from just doing that without using any Twitter account? Or is it that they really want to be able to retweet those deleted tweets, not just publish them somewhere?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.