Following in the footsteps of information disclosure websites like WikiLeaks, Politwoops is a site devoted to publicizing deleted politician tweets. According to Tom Lee, technical director of the Sunlight Foundation that runs the site, deleted tweets have a legitimate political function in today’s society.
In an interview with NPR, Lee says that “for pretty much every other medium, we don’t extend this kind of memory hole to the people that we elect. We think [deleted tweets] deserve more scrutiny, and deserve to be treated like other official records that are produced by our legislators.”
Some of the deleted tweets displayed on the site are rather innocuous, like this one from Democratic Congressman Jason Altmire: “My 20th initiative passed the House. My amendment restores funding to the Yellow Ribbon Program which helps returning vets & their families.” Other tweets, however, uncover spurious comments, like the one from Rep. Jeff Miller which asked “Was Obama born in the United States?”
It’s not just the whistle-blower sites that politicians need to be concerned about. Anyone can easily take a screen shot of a deleterious tweet from a politician and publish the picture on social media — even if the original tweet is deleted. In today’s world, everything is on the record, everything is fair game, so it’s more important than ever for politicians to keep on top of their social media personas.
Where Do the Gaffes Originate?
Sometimes inappropriate or deleted tweets don’t come from the politicians themselves. In some cases, politicians outsource the task of social media management to aides, assistants, or PR agencies. The results, as we’ve seen, can be devastating. Social media management tools have become so easy to use that there’s really no good reason for politicians to offload this public facet of their campaigns to anyone else.
Political teams and politicians can use tactics like Twitter lists and hashtags to scale the management of their accounts — even if they have millions of followers. After all, on the evening news, savvy politicians answer the tough questions themselves, they don’t hand the microphone over to an aide or an agency. If they did, the public’s perception of them would be considerably affected, most likely with a negative outcome.
Of course, we all make mistakes. Politicians who are effectively managing their social media accounts can get in front of these errors and address the issues head on. Trying to hide or cover up one’s shortcomings has never been a good idea — and particularly not in the era of transparency and viral embarrassment.
Clues to Leadership?
There are some times when it’s completely legitimate to delete a tweet. How, when and why politicians handle deleted tweets, however, can expose more than just the information they were trying to get rid of.
It can give us clues as to whether or not the politician manages his or her account, or if the reins of control have been given to somebody else. Is that the kind of leader you want to connect with on Twitter? More importantly, is that the kind of leader you want to represent you in government?
Are politicians’ deleted tweets off the record or is it okay if they’re made public? What do deleted tweets tell us about how a politician manages his or her social media campaign? Share your thoughts in the comments.