A Twitter spokesperson just provided the following statement to Gawker regarding the apparent suspension of Politwoops’ access to Twitter’s developer API, which enabled the Sunlight Foundation-funded site to track tweets deleted by hundreds of politicians. Summarized: Politwoops is no more.
Earlier today we spoke to the Sunlight Foundation, to tell them we will not restore Twitter API access for their Politwoops site. We strongly support Sunlight’s mission of increasing transparency in politics and using civic tech and open data to hold government accountable to constituents, but preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement. Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress.
Update, 6:50 p.m.
After this post was published, Gawker received an anonymous email (posted below) from someone claiming to be a Twitter employee with knowledge of the company’s negotiations with the Sunlight Foundation. (We can’t verify whether the sender is actually employed by Twitter, so take the email with a grain of salt.) We’ve lightly edited the email for clarity.
I work at Twitter and am definitely a Politiwoops fan despite knowing it violates our Terms of Service. (Definitely not in a decision making position though.) As you know, Sunlight had a phone call with a colleague here at Twitter. My understanding is, we were going to consider a quiet reversal but let’s just say it didn’t go well. (Lots of “why us and not others.”) And frankly I think we wound up digging in because of that. No More Politwoops :( :(. At least a few of us here still think that is a fucking shame though.
Update, 6/4/15, 12:00 p.m.
Days after Politwoops launched in 2012, Twitter contacted the Sunlight Foundation and told us, “Your service violates our API Terms of Service on a fundamental level.” We explained the goals of the project and agreed to create a human curation workflow to ensure that the site screened out corrected low-value tweets like typos, links and Twitter handles. We implemented this layer of journalistic judgment with blessings from Twitter and the site continued.
According to Gates, nobody at the Sunlight Foundation seems to understand what caused Twitter to change its mind:
We are truly mystified as to what prompted the change of heart, and it’s deeply disappointing to see Twitter kill a project they had supported since 2012. It is also disturbing to us that our feed was cut almost three weeks ago and our only direct communication came from Twitter last night, when we were told that their decision was not something that we could appeal, and, most surprisingly, they were not interested in reviewing any of the email conversation from 2012. Clearly, something changed — and we’re not likely to ever know what it was.