By Stephen Nazaran
Politwoops archives the deleted tweets of diplomats and politicians (tagline: “even politicians post things they regret later”) has been shut down by Twitter. Twitter suspended Politwoop USA’s access to Twitter’s API in June, and this past weekend suspended Politwoop’s access in 30 other remaining countries.
Politwoops (and its cousin Diplotwoops) are social media archiving applications that detect when a politician or diplomat deletes a tweet and archive the deleted tweet. The non-profit Sunlight Foundation, which promotes transparency in government, launched Politwoops in the US in 2012 with the goal “to create accountability and a public record for the messages elected officials and candidates for president, vice president, Congress and governor published on social media, particularly those public statements they delete.”
In a statement released to Gawker, Twitter said that “preserving deleted Tweets violates our developer agreement.” The Open State Foundation, which runs Politwoops in 30 countries, reported that Twitter wrote: “Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable? No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user’s voice.”
Open State director Arjan El Fassed responded, “Even when tweets are deleted, it’s part of parliamentary history. These tweets were once posted and later deleted. What politicians say in public should be available to anyone.”
Twitter’s action highlights importance of independently archiving social media evidence
Politwoops depended on access to Twitter’s API in order to run its service. Twitter allows developers access to its API so that they can build applications that extend the original functionality of Twitter; myriads of such applications exist. An API provides developers (limited) access to another application, so that they can allow their application to “talk” to the other application (see here for a great intro to APIs).
There is no question that Twitter may define how developers use its API. Twitter is free to suspend access to it to anyone it pleases, and is not obligated to preserve deleted tweets or to help others preserve deleted tweets.
The lesson here is that relying on social media platforms to preserve posts is foolhardy.
Social media platforms will preserve or delete posts and other information as they see fit, guided by their own business concerns. Applications relying on social media APIs to preserve social media evidence will always be vulnerable to changes in those APIs or to loss of access to those APIs.
Requirements for archiving social media evidence
When the preservation and authentication of social media evidence is important—especially when that evidence is vulnerable to deletion—users require a tool that:
- Does not rely on API access to the platform. The tool should function independently of the social media platform’s own architecture for the reasons cited above.
- Allows users ordinary access to the platforms. Users should be able to archive social media evidence that they are typically able to view. In addition, they should be able to capture material they can surf to, even when their passwords are required.
- Preserves evidence as it originally appeared. The tool should preserve the evidence exactly as it originally appeared to a user online. Tools dependent on APIs often archive posts in formats differing from the original online presentation, leading to a loss of context and other crucial material.
- Authenticates evidence. The tool should verify that the archived evidence was on the web at the time and IP address recorded. Authentication must be independent of the user and the social media platform in order to provide a reliable archive if and when the original post is removed.
- Archives material independently of the user and platform. Archived material should be securely stored by a trusted third party to prevent tampering or alteration.
Page Vault — platform-independent social media archiving software.
Page Vault offers software that allows anyone to quickly and easily archive any webpage evidence, including social media. Page Vault does not rely on API access to platforms, and offers users an intuitive browser that allows them to capture anything to which they can surf. Page Vault archives pages as they originally appeared and automatically records metadata including the date and time of capture, URL, IP address, and source code. The archived material is digitally signed and stored online in users’ accounts and is easily downloaded in PDF format, or integrated with e-discovery platforms. Page Vault provides affidavits attesting to the efficacy of its patent-pending architecture for reliably capturing and authenticating webpage evidence in conformity with Federal Rules of Evidence 901(b)(9).