It's often said that there is no true delete button on the Internet. For politicians on Twitter, that is now an absolute truth. A Washington-based non-profit has launched a nifty new tool for capturing regrettable tweets from lawmakers in Congress, Barack Obama and presidential candidates. Called Politwoops, it archives deleted tweets, noting when they were posted and how long they stayed up.
Had Politwoops been around at this time last year, it would have captured then Congressional member Anthony Weiner's accidental sharing of his little member. Weiner mistakenly sent out the scandalous photo as a public tweet rather than as a private direct message. He deleted it quickly, but not before it was noticed by critics of his who followed his Twitter account closely. Now all politicians will be subject to this kind of close scrutiny. Be careful with those DMs, lawmakers.
Politwoops already has over 3,000 tweets from the last six months, according to a press release from the Sunlight Foundation, which launched the tool:
The collection includes previously-reported episodes like Senator Chuck Grassley's hacked account and other deletions that slipped by unnoticed, like Representative Jeff Miller tweeting a link to a Facebook poll asking, "Was Obama born in the United States?" There are humorous instances such as Representative Stephen Fincher comparing reality television show The Bachelor to the popular Hunger Games book series and embarrassingly honest moments like Senator John McCain mocking the tears of recently re-elected Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Hastily written tweets just got even more dangerous for U.S. politicians. Though, as Anthony Weiner can attest, the delete button wasn't all that useful before the advent of Politwoops.
Politicians may not be fans of a project designed to make their delete button obsolete. But at least one lawmaker has found a way to use the site to his advantage. Denny Rehberg, a Republican from Montana, is writing and deleting tweets with the express purpose of having them show up on the website this week, knowing that it's getting attention around its launch:
The project violates Twitter's rules for developers, which state that users' delete actions should be honored, and specifically forbid "publicly displaying to other end users that the Tweet was unfavorited or deleted." We'll see whether Twitter thinks the public good of publicity here outweighs this technicality in their rules.