Twitter vs Politwoops: politics and privacy on the Web 2.0

Twitter recent movements in the field of political action have returned to bring out the debate on the degree of privacy applicable to public representatives on the Web 2.0.

Manuel M. Almeida
Aug 25, 2015 · 6 min read

by Manuel M. Almeida

Continuing with the actions taken last May with the block of Politwoops US, just a few days ago the platform decided to do the same with all similar accounts, a total of 31 profiles that, under the headings of Politwoops and Diplotwoops, automatically published via API tweets deleted by politicians in their accounts.

The block affects profiles operating in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Portugal, Egypt, Estland, France, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, Macedonia, Norway, Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Switserland, Tunesia, Turkey, the Vatican and the European Parliament, all them managed by the international pro transparency organization Open State Foundation.

Twitter says that the decision was based on a “thoughtful internal deliberation and close consideration of a number of factors”, whose conclusion has been that can not discriminate between users: “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”.

The platform also argues that the activity of these profiles violated its ‘Developer & Policy Agreement‘ in 2. f point of their ‘Guiding Principles’:

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

For Arjan El Fassed, director of the Open State Foundation, however

“What elected politicians publicly say is a matter of public record. 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. This is not about typos but it is a unique insight on how messages from elected politicians can change without notice”.

Privacy and freedom of information

The debate is exciting, because it means moving to the realm of social networking an aspect that has accompanied the legal cover of journalism throughout its history. What degree of privacy against the media must have the public figures, particularly politicians?

Although the answer to this question is still being located in a thin line that continues to generate waves of lawsuits and complaints, in the case of most democratic countries there is a clear tendency to consider that the right to privacy of public figures, particularly in the exercise of its function, especially in the case of elected politicians, is subordinated to the right to information.

That is, the right to information prevail over the right to privacy when observed principles of ‘public interest’ of information, ‘public importance’ of the person subject of the information and ‘veracity’ of fact statement.

Given this premise, no doubt post a deleted tweet of an elected politician is an informative fact that can not be censured because this action presenting the above principles: public interest (something said by a public representative ), relevance (is an elected politician) and veracity (actually it was published).

Of course, we can discuss if all published by politicians on social networks come into the field of public interest, but we can not forget that social networks are by definition, and unless expressly opts for a private choice, public and it is the responsibility of every user, especially if exercised a role of social representativeness, accurately measure what they share.

Laws ‘versus’ policies

This debate is also exciting because focus on other of big problems that are causing the migration of the ‘analog’ society to ‘digital’ network society.

In the ‘analog’ society, the media had a strong local profile, in the field of content and in their commercial basis, but also in the field of the laws of the countries in which they were established. In the network society, the new media are, by nature, globals and must deal with multiple legal frameworks and adapt them all to avoid problems with the users and the governments of each nation.

The ‘analog’ media established their ‘conditions of participation’, ‘terms of use’, ‘policies’ and any other type of corporate regulation in accordance with local laws, the same of their users, minimizing the effects negatives of their particular stipulations.

It is more complicated for digital media because if there is one area that resists globalization that is, precisely, the justice. And although supranational institutions, such as the European Union, are working to unify criteria in their territory, truth is that the outlook on the whole planet is discouraging and the resolution of this problem looks highly complex.

So the trend of companies operating in the Web 2.0 has been until today to develop corporate clauses that impose on users, in most cases more or less adapted to US law, and go correcting as they receive claims.

A certain passivity on the part of users and administrations have done that for years these corporate clauses, these ‘policies’, have been working like parallel laws, ‘digital’ laws mandatory for participation on each platform apart from the rights granted to citizens by their own national laws.

But oops, neither the ‘conditions of participation’, ‘terms of use’ or ‘policies’ are laws.

At this point, can Twitter block the publication of tweets deleted by elected politicians? Sure it can, it just made. Twitter has the right to establish the rules it deems appropriate in its platform, provided they do not contravene laws and fundamental rights.

Could a tribunal of justice consider blocking Politwoops profiles such as an assault on a fundamental right such as the right to information? Complicated. Not only because it would have to match it with the laws of each country, and within them view if successful, but because it seems that what Twitter prohibit is do it through its API, not through any other means.

It’s about transparency

I think, anyway, that Twitter is seriously wrong in this case, just because it calls into question its consideration as a channel ‘friend’ of the freedoms of expression and information, one of his most brand image characteristic.

Maybe its decision was motivated by pressures, fearing a politicians ‘stampede’ or a simplistic view of ‘equality in the media’, placing the ‘user value’ over the ‘content value’, but in any If away from the generally accepted convention in democracy about the primacy of the right to information on the right to privacy under the conditions and persons mentioned above.

Trying to consider a tweet from an anonymous citizen in the same way that a political one means ignoring the duties, responsibilities and significance that involves political and institutional activity, in facts and words, in representation of citizenship, unlike that of any another user. This makes impossible to defend the argument of Twitter.

And this applies exactly the same to any other channel of Web 2.0, any social network or digital communications platform.

Transparency is one of the major demands of contemporary society, one of the pillars of the new models of democracy and one of the main expectations generated by the social network. If the social networks finally end up becoming platforms of propaganda, opaque, faked, where politicians can make up their positions and their messages without the possibility of spreading their mistakes, lies and contradictions, rather than progress we would have regressed.

In my opinion, the right to privacy of political positions in the Network should be governed by the same criteria that laws and jurisprudence have been setting, always subordinating it to the right to information on matters of public interest. Any platform that adopt an opposite position not only could not be called ‘transparent’ but neither ‘social’, 2.0 or ‘friend’ of the freedoms of expression and information.


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Manuel M. Almeida

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Writer, journalist, blogger -> http://mmeida.com

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