May 3, 2013

The deleted tweets of U.S. politicians


Think you deleted that tweet, Junior Senator? Think again. For there is now a website, Politwoops, which collects deleted tweets by U.S. politicians and preserves them for all time, so that we can read, weep, gnash teeth, and generally be glad that, for the moment, we’re not politicians and no one’s watching our twitter feed that closely.

The shaming is not exclusively American: Politwoops originated in the Netherlands, as an Open State Foundation project to follow Dutch politicians, as part of greater efforts towards transparency and accountability in government, and it now has sister sites tracking politicians in the UK, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Italy, Venezuela, South Korea, and, oh be still my beating heart, the Vatican. Here’s what got taken off the papal twitter account:

Who’s feeling infallible now, eh?

But for all those whose Latin is rusty and whose concerns are closer to home, the U.S. version of Politwoops makes for deeply fascinating reading. For the most part, the deleted tweets aren’t obviously embarrassing or particularly personal. Instead, they mostly seem to contain announcements or opinions that, for various reasons, must have been deemed impolitic, either soon after the posting or in light of further events: for instance, there are a number of tweets reporting news about the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombing which have been taken down, presumably because the information they reported was premature or the politicians didn’t want to be seen as contributing to the whirlwind of media speculation that followed the bombing.

And it’s sad to see Congresswoman Lois Capps (D, California, 24th District) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I, Vermont) apparently drawing down from certain positions. For example:

But for every reminder of the compromises that politics seems to require from well-meaning individuals, there’s also some deeply unfunny, partisan, anti-global warming humor to be rescued from staffer reconsideration. Namely:

However, Congressman Steve Cohen (D, Tennessee, 9th District) is one step ahead of everyone else in the social media world, and playing a long game—Cohen’s been deliberately tweeting things and deleting them, knowing that they’ll then get posted to Politwoops, as a strategy for publicizing the things he was tweeting about in the first place. And also to draw attention to shoddy, sensationalized journalism. Because a Dutch government-monitoring site is a better place to do this than Twitter itself? I don’t know….

For the record, Cohen’s undeleted tweets seem pretty much in keeping with his deleted ones: the spelling and punctuation is funky, the hashtags run riot like forsythia in April, and the fanboy enthusiasm for pop stars and sporting events seems completely genuine. This is, after all, a man whose Twitter account looked like this, this week:

And there’s no shame in that, no shame at all.


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.