Who’d be a politician? After a hard day spent fighting for the rights of constituents (or gadding about at the public’s expense, depending on your viewpoint) they idly post a tweet, change their mind about its suitability for the public domain and delete it. They then endure hours of attacks from strangers over their errant judgement and unsuitability for political life. The scrutiny is intense, and we can only wonder whether that’s balanced out by the power they enjoy.
But this week, our MPs can, at least in theory, breathe slightly easier with the news that Twitter has effectively shut down a third party service, politwoops.co.uk, that archived their deleted tweets for our amusement. Journalists and political opponents found the service tremendously useful; after all, tweets that MPs choose to delete tell us far more than the tedious guff that makes up the majority of their social media output.
The service was part of a global network of sites run by the Open State Foundation (OSF), an organisation that “promotes digital transparency by unlocking open data”. Twitter stated years ago that the practice breached its terms of service, but they let it continue after receiving assurances from OSF that they’d introduce an element of human moderation. Of course, the whole project is dedicated to highlighting inconsistencies and U-turns, so it wasn’t a surprise to see OSF’s director, Arjan El Fassed, slam Twitter’s reversal of its earlier position. “What elected politicians say is a matter of public record,” he said – and his feelings have been widely echoed online; Twitter has been cast as the poodle of the powerful, meekly succumbing to their wishes and, by altering a few lines of code, halting an important method of holding politicians to account.
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