Twitter was birthed as a supporter of transparency and free speech. Its mission statement clearly says that Twitter exists "to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers." Yet the latest move by the social network appears to indicate that this commitment might become a thing of the past.
What has Twitter done?
In the past few days Twitter has blocked 31 transparency seeking accounts from accessing Twitter's API (which allows 3rd party websites access). Politwoops, a website that saved tweets deleted by politicians, said that Twitter had halted its operations across 30 countries.
This isn't the first. Back in June a similar effort was killed off in, set up by the Sunlight Foundation. This is despite being granted access back in 2012, specifically allowing the Sunlight Foundation to collect and curate deleted tweets from lawmakers and people seeking public office in order to hold them accountable by preserving their public statements on the record.
Why does it matter?
If we look at Politwoops specifically, we can see why these services were so highly valued. Started by the Open State Foundation in 2010 its collection of politician deleted tweets provided embarrassment and accountability to politicians, and was a useful tool for journalists.
“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.”
A convincing argument, but one that Twitter doesn't agree with.
What does Twitter have to say?
Twitter says that these accounts violate the API’s terms of service which forbids developers from storing deleted tweets, regardless of who tweeted them. Twitter told the OSF that: "following thoughtful internal deliberation and close consideration of a number of factors that doesn't distinguish between users. No one user is more deserving of that ability (to delete tweets) than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user's voice."
What's strange is this shift of attitude from Twitter of yesteryear. Back in 2012 former CEO Dick Costolo constantly sold it as a hub of free speech: "We are the free speech wing of the free speech party."
In addition, as The Verge points out Twitter does indeed distinguish users through its verification model - which contradicts the statement Twitter gave OSF.
Gawker also suggested that Twitter has stepped down from the role of supporting transparency a while ago: Twitter has been "withholding content at the request of the Pakistani and Russian (and later, Turkish) governments." There's a strong argument for adding the US and UK to this list as well.
It's seems though, that Twitter - whether it intended to or not, is showing its true priorities when it comes to business versus values.