Digital rights groups pressure Twitter to restore Politwoops

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A host of digital and human rights groups are pressuring Twitter to reverse course and allow them to collect lawmakers’ deleted tweets. 

The social media company’s recent decision to pull the plug on the “Politwoops” tools in the United States and around the world has “grave consequences” for transparency and free expression, the groups wrote in an open letter released Friday. 

{mosads}“[Twitter] has helped foster numerous advances in journalism and in accountability. This makes the unilateral decision by Twitter so troubling and off-course,” they wrote in the letter. 

The letter, organized by the digital rights group Access, made a series of recommendations, starting with restoring use of Twitter’s application program interface (API), which gives developers access to Twitter’s entire stream and lets them write programs around it, such as the Politwoops tool.

They also called on Twitter to work with stakeholders to update its API developers policy and make clear exceptions for information in the public interest. 

Twitter first cut off access to the Sunlight Foundation’s tool in May, justifying the move by saying the project violated its privacy policy. In August, it did the same thing to similar projects in 30 other countries. 

When announcing its decision, Twitter said deleting a tweet is an expression of a users voice and politicians should not be treated differently. 

The digital rights groups, however, argued the public has a “compelling interest” in the tweets of public officials. 

“Recognizing this public interest, courts have long held that public officials do not receive the same treatment for privacy,” according to the letter. “Further, when public officials use Twitter to amplify their political views, they invite greater scrutiny of their expression.” 

Some advocates have been clear-eyed about the unlikely odds that Twitter will reverse course.

The company abruptly made the decision with little input from the people running the tools. And Twitter has failed to explain the timing of its move, since the projects had been in operation for years with Twitter’s knowledge — and in some cases, its implicit blessing. 

The letter was signed by groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Human Rights Watch, the Open State Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation. Organizations running the tool in a number of other countries from Turkey and Korea to Mexico and Argentina also signed on.

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