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Twitter boots nonprofit that exposed politicians’ deleted tweets

Transparency is a great thing, especially when it concerns politicians of all ideologues, who in general don’t have a reputation for consistent integrity. But Twitter users who appreciate some NGO oversight with their daily dose of political tweets are in for a disappointment because Politwoops has just been booted off Twitter.

If you haven’t heard of Politwoops (note the pun spelling), it’s run by a nonprofit called the Sunlight Foundation, based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is promoting transparency in governments around the world. The nonprofit has traditionally taken to Twitter to post the deleted tweets of politicians of all stripes and parties – until now, that is.

Twitter recently kicked the nonprofit off its site and shut down its stream because posting deleted tweets of anyone is apparently a violation of Twitter’s developer’s agreement. The concerns from Twitter’s standpoint relate to privacy. Users of the site – unscrupulous politicians included – have a right to privacy, and that included not wanting deleted tweets to be preserved by a government watchdog.

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From the viewpoint of government-transparency advocates, this is a blow to the right of the public to know about their politicians and, ultimately, holding them accountable. Sure, people can still access the Sunlight Foundation’s website, but shutting down its Twitter stream destroys one popular channel for getting the news out.

While the American Politwoops stream (as well as other countries) on Twitter is no more, the British version on Twitter still exists under the handle Tweets MPs Delete (image above). Unsurprisingly, the fate of this stream, which tracks British politicians, is in jeopardy right now for the same privacy-concern reasons outlined above.

Politwoops is a valuable service because it keeps public what elected representatives serving on the public’s behalf don’t want the public to see or remember. To be sure, not all tweets are questionable in nature. A quick review of Politwoops’ old U.S. Twitter stream on the Sunlight Foundation’s website, whose last deleted tweet belonged to Democratic House Representative Tammy Duckworth, found a combination of inappropriate and benign tweets.

Though Twitter has a priority to protect its users’ privacy, the public may be the big loser with the shutdown of a transparency service like this.