Politicians will need to be especially careful about how they use social media this year: Last Thursday, Twitter announced the return of Politwoops, a site that saves politicians’ deleted tweets. Created by the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to “mak[ing] our government and politics more accountable and transparent,” Politwoops uses Twitter’s API to archive tweets that politicians post and later delete. Politicians may want to remove these tweets for a variety of reasons — from simple typos to problematic statements they wish they could take back — but Politwoops shows them what many of us have known for a long time: What you say on the Internet can’t be unsaid. Like diamonds, the Internet is forever.
This announcement follows news from six months ago that Twitter had effectively shut down Politwoops by suspending its access to Twitter’s API. In June, a Twitter spokesperson claimed that, “preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement,” adding, “Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress.” In a “Eulogy for Politwoops,” Christopher Gates, Sunlight Foundation president, explained the mission of the site:
What our elected officials say is a matter of public record, and Twitter is an increasingly important part of how our elected officials communicate with the public. This kind of dialogue between we the people and those who represent us is an important part of any democratic system. …
Politwoops was created because public communications from public officials should be available to anyone who wants to see them. The site isn't just about blunders, but rather revealing a more intimate perspective on our politicians and how they communicate with their constituents.
Last week, Twitter posted an announcement to its blog stating that the social media service had reached an agreement with the Sunlight Foundation and The Open State Foundation to resurrect Politwoops. The post includes a quotation from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, given at a conference in October:
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.
Jenn Topper, communications director for The Sunlight Foundation, said of the decision,
Politwoops is an important tool for holding our public officials, including candidates and elected or appointed public officials, accountable for the statements they make, and we’re glad that we’ve been able to reach an agreement with Twitter to bring it back online both in the US and internationally.
The announcement did not indicate when, precisely, Politwoops will return (as of now, the most recent deleted tweets posted on the site are from last May). But, with social media sure to play a significant role in the 2016 elections, let’s hope the site is up and running again soon.