During the recent federal election, some candidates’ social media histories came back to bite them.
And soon it may get even harder for elected officials to hide from their online past, thanks to the potential return of Politwoops.
The website archived deleted tweets from politicians. If you were an elected official and you tweeted something, then deleted it for any reason, Politwoops would save a copy.
With sites for more than 30 different countries around the world, including Canada, the stated goal of the website was greater government transparency and accountability.
But in late August, Twitter shut Politwoops down. It said the site was in violation of its developer policy, which bans saving deleted tweets. And without the access the site needed, it’s since been in a sort of limbo.
Human Rights Watch among groups calling for return of Politwoops
But it hasn’t gone quietly. A number of high-profile rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have called for Twitter to change its decision.
Twitter now has new leadership. Jack Dorsey, who co-founded the service, was named CEO earlier this month. And at Twitter’s developer conference earlier this month, Dorsey apologized for “confusion” around the company’s policies.
He also said that Twitter has “a responsibility to continue to empower organizations that bring more transparency to public dialogue,” and mentioned Politwoops as one such organization.
If Politwoops is able to re-launch, it would mean users would once again be able to search through elected officials’ deleted tweets.
Greater transparency comes with drawbacks, says expert
But the potential for greater transparency doesn’t necessarily guarantee greater transparency, according to Mark Blevis.
He’s a digital public affairs strategist in Ottawa who worked with Twitter on election analysis this year. And while he said that kind of transparency has an upside, it also has a flip side for politicians.
“Just knowing that they’re being watched in these ways might inhibit them from engaging in more open communication,” he said. “The result of which is it validates and encourages scripted talking points.”
As for the site itself, Politwoops’ Arjan El Fassed said that aside from Jack Dorsey’s onstage reference to their service, he hasn’t heard from Twitter. That means right now, there isn’t a timeline for its return, or any assurance that the site will be able to continue on.
But Arjan said he hopes to have an update soon.
In the meantime, Blevis offers some advice for politicians who don’t want their pasts to return to haunt them.