Twitter has blocked 31 transparency-seeking accounts from accessing its developer API. These accounts all archived and made public the deleted tweets of powerful people like politicians. Twitter’s actually been doing this for a while now.
Back in June, Twitter revoked API access from the popular Politwoops account that was run by the Sunlight Foundation. This latest round of pseudo-censorship targets the UK’s Open State Foundation, which operated the accounts in question. The British organisation’s accounts logged the deleted tweets of persons in power in over 30 countries around the world. “What elected politicians publicly say is a matter of public record,” the foundation’s director, Arjan El Fassed, told The Guardian. “What politicians say in public should be available to anyone. This is not about typos but it is a unique insight on how messages from elected politicians can change without notice.”
That’s a very good point, but Twitter says that these accounts violate the API’s terms of service which forbids developers from storing deleted tweets, regardless of who tweeted them. “Honouring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us,” Twitter told Gawker back in June, “whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress.” Of course, you can imagine how much more swiftly and forcefully Twitter would respond to accounts that targeted politicians.
Twitter’s famously propped itself up as a supporter of transparency and free speech. But as it has grown, “Twitter stepped down from that role, withholding1 content at the request of the Pakistani and Russian (and later, Turkish) governments,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asserted in a blog post earlier this year.” Depending on your perspective, you could add the US and the UK to that list.
While the British government tends to approach free speech differently than those in Washington, the principle is the same. Information wants to be free. Twitter’s making it a little less so.