Twitter Kills Off Political Gaffe-Tracker Politwoops

Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

As more presidential aspirants this week announced their intention to jump into a crowded field of declared 2016 candidates, Twitter effectively shut down a popular service that in recent years has surfaced some of the most memorable gaffes in national politics.

Twitter issued a statement Wednesday to Gawker explaining that it was blocking Politwoops, a project of the government transparency non-profit Sunlight Foundation, from accessing its application programming interface, or API, which gives software developers access to the social media behemoth’s data.

“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,” the statement read. “Honoring the expectation of user privacy for all accounts is a priority for us, whether the user is anonymous or a member of Congress.”

Politwoops has proved itself to be a powerful tool for journalists over the years, archiving everything from amusing typos to mini-scandals. There was the time New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tweeted about bongs thanks to autocorrect. There was the time Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) “inadvertently” tweeted a photo of an Estonian model in bondage gear.

Perhaps most memorably, Politwoops surfaced seemingly flirty tweets sent during the 2013 State of the Union between Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and a young woman he believed to be his daughter (Cohen would later learn through a DNA test that the woman was not, in fact, his daughter).

But the service’s last aggregated tweet appeared on May 15. Nicko Margolies, who leads the project for the Sunlight Foundation, first notified the followers that the service was experiencing an “outage” in a Friday blog post. Margolies later told Gawker that the outage was “related to the access to Twitter data” and that the Sunlight Foundation was attempting to resolve the problem with the social media company.

But as Gawker pointed out, and as some tech reporters noted when Politwoops first debuted in 2012, Politwoops’ very mission — to archive politicians’ deleted tweets in the spirit of transparency — appeared to violate the Twitter API’s developer agreement.

“Only surface Twitter activity as it surfaced on Twitter,” the agreement reads. “For example, your Service should execute the unfavorite and delete actions by removing all relevant Content, not by publicly displaying to other users that the Tweet is no longer favorited or has been deleted.”

Sunlight Foundation President Christopher Gates said in a blog post Thursday afternoon that Twitter did contact Politwoops about complying with the terms of its API when the project first launched. He said Twitter then approved of the project after the Sunlight Foundation explained what it hoped to accomplish with Politwoops and promised to have actual humans screen out “low-value” deleted tweets.

“We implemented this layer of journalistic judgment with blessings from Twitter and the site continued,” Gates said. “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.”

“Clearly, something changed — and we’re not likely to ever know what it was,” he added.

This post has been updated.

Latest Livewire

Notable Replies

  1. Anyone want to bet that the political bigwigs had something to do with this?

  2. They were engaged in a clear violation of Twitter rules. It was only a matter of time.

  3. They should be able to relaunch without reliance on Twitter’s API. All the information they need is right out there on the twitter site. They can make new accounts every day to read twitter posts and save them.

  4. As always…follow the money.

    But apparently they’ve got cover if the ToS specifically prohibit what they were doing.

    However, we all know that no one actually reads the ToS before they click Agree, and this had been going on for years.

    So I’m back to…follow the money.

  5. The Ministry of Truth, busy facilitating the rewriting of history.

Continue the discussion at


Avatar for system1 Avatar for artemisia Avatar for trippin Avatar for hippocritic Avatar for bradbennett Avatar for itsjibba

Continue Discussion
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: