Twitter has just sided with politicians so they can hide what they've said from us

I helped create the Politwoop tool to allow people to see politicians' deleted tweets, and hold them to account – so why has it been blocked?

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The Independent Online

We at the Open State Foundation received an email from Twitter this weekend. They had decided to suspend access to Politwoops, a tool which captures deleted tweets by elected politicians in 30 countries. Its decision, Twitter wrote, followed a "thoughtful internal deliberation and close consideration of a number of factors". "Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable?" it asked. "No one user is more deserving of that ability than another".

We don't agree. We believe that what politicians publicly say is a matter of public record. Even when tweets are deleted, it’s part of parliamentary history. We believe that the public shouldn't be kept in the dark on what elected politicians have stated in public, even if they later change their mind.

That is why in 2010 we developed Politwoops, a tool to archive deleted tweets from politicians around world. First in the Netherlands, later with @deletedbyMPs in the UK and various other versions in countries like the US, France, Germany, India, Egypt and Turkey.

What politicians tweet but also delete gives insight in how they behave politically. Earlier this year we found that tweets were deleted from one politician’s account during the time his expenses were the subject of an investigation. He resigned after coming under increasing pressure from the public and his party.

We believe that Twitter’s decision to ban a useful tool for holding politicians to account is a mistake. Even the so-called "right to be forgotten" excludes statements made on the internet by public officials, as well as anything that could be in the public interest.

The open character of the internet ensures that information continues to flow. We believe that citizens are empowered by digital connections and global information flows. Something that has also inspired the founders of Twitter with their goal "to instantly connect people everywhere to what is most meaningful to them".

However, the internet is now being carved up by both governments and companies alike. Universal values such as the right to information, free speech and privacy have important implications. These rights are individual rights, in which an citizen is protected and able to hold the powerful to account. But by blocking the Politwoops API – the automated system it uses to find deleted tweets by politicians – Twitter has decided to forsake these values, and the only people who will benefit are the powerful.

Arjan El Fassed is director of Open State Foundation, based in the Netherlands

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