Call it "The Case of the Missing Tweet." A politician sends out a controversial remark using Twitter. Then lo and behold, when public outcry begins, the tweet is suddenly nowhere to be found. It's been deleted.
Now though, thanks to an agreement between Twitter and a pair of government-transparency groups, you'll again have access to a website that archives those tweets to make sure they're part of the public record. Twitter announced the deal this week.
The site, Politwoops, was disrupted earlier this year when Twitter stopped giving it access to code that made preservation of the tweets possible. The social network said at the time that it supported "increasing transparency in politics and using civic tech and open data to hold government accountable to constituents." But it also said that saving and publishing deleted tweets broke its rules and violated its users' privacy.
The Netherlands-based Open State Foundation, the transparency group behind the site, and the US-based Sunlight Foundation, which runs Politwoops in the states, responded with an open letter in September calling for restoration of access. The groups argued that a citizen's right to information outweighs a political figure's right to retroactively edit a statement.
The conflict raised the question of what counts as a public record in the Internet era. It also highlighted the ease with which a careless user of social media can get into hot water. One example: Last July, a worker for Donald Trump's campaign inadvertently included a picture of Nazi soldiers in a patriotic photo-collage tweeted and deleted by Trump's account. In 2014, several politicians deleted tweets that had shown support for a US Army soldier who'd been held captive by the Taliban but was later charged by the Army with desertion.
In its post about the agreement Thursday, San Francisco-based Twitter gave no details, but it quoted remarks made by CEO Jack Dorsey during the social network's conference for software developers this past October.
"We have a responsibility to continue to empower organizations that bring more transparency to public dialogue, such as Politwoops," Dorsey said at the Flight conference. "We need to make sure we are serving all these organizations and developers in the best way, because that is what will make Twitter great. We need to listen, we need to learn, and we need to have this conversation with you. We want to start that today."
In its own online statement, the Open State Foundation said the deal was the result of several meetings with Twitter since Dorsey's remarks.
It's not clear when Politwoops will again start posting deleted tweets. An online statement from the Sunlight Foundation said that "in the coming days and weeks, we'll be working behind the scenes to get Politwoops up and running." The Open State Foundation said in its statement that in the "coming months" it will relaunch Politwoops in the more than 30 countries in which it had been available, and that it will look to add more countries to the list.