Sunlight Foundation rips Twitter for pulling plug on lawmaker archive

Sunlight Foundation rips Twitter for pulling plug on lawmaker archive
© Sunlight Foundation

The Sunlight Foundation took a sharp jab at Twitter on Thursday after the social media company effectively killed Politwoops, a tool from the group that had tracked lawmakers' deleted tweets. 

In a "eulogy" to the 3-year-old project, the Sunlight Foundation said the decision is a "reminder of how the Internet isn't truly a public square."

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"We will honor Twitter's latest decision, but it stands at odds with a fundamental understanding of our democracy," the group's President Christopher Gates said. "A member of Congress does not and should not have the same expectation of privacy as a private citizen. Power can only be accountable with a generous application of transparency."

Twitter revoked the Sunlight Foundation's permission to use its application program interface (API), which allows access to Twitter's stream and allows developers to build programs around it. The company quietly pulled the plug on the API about three weeks ago. And Twitter on Wednesday said it would not restore it because the project violates its developers' agreement. 

The Sunlight Foundation said it does not know what spurred Twitter's "change of heart" last month since the tool had been operating for about three years. 

The foundation noted it had conversations with the company back in 2012 when the tool first launched.

At that time, Twitter had raised concerns about the tool violating its terms of service. But the Sunlight Foundation said it received the "blessing" from Twitter after agreeing to have humans screen through the tweets and weed out insignificant deletions — including ones that contained typos or incorrect links. 

"Unfortunately, Twitter’s decision to pull the plug on Politwoops is a reminder of how the Internet isn’t truly a public square," Gates said. "Our shared conversations are increasingly taking place in privately owned and managed walled gardens, which means that the politics that occur in such conversations are subject to private rules."

In the statement Wednesday, Twitter said it supports the foundation's mission, but "honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us."