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  • I voted yes for the Passenger Rail Reform & Investment Act, makes transportation cheaper & more accountable. ~ US Rep David Young (IA-3) (R) on Twitter 3/5/15

    Except he didn't. Didn't vote for it and sort of didn't say that.

    I'm passing on a few words from my associate Max Entropy (I'm allowed to call him that since he promoted me to Factotum-in-Chief) about Twitter, that opinioneering Internet app that keeps so many people's fingers out of their noses. Max wants you to know what a danger Twitter is to civil society. Please don't shoot the messenger if you disagree.

    For starters, did you know that billions of dollars of trades of currency and securities rise or fall on the basis of tweets? Clever software apps in counting houses around the globe spend all day ingesting and filtering every tweet made to ferret out market information that they parse and analyze for news and sentiments. Based on that, they make investment decisions and forward orders to automated trading systems every few milliseconds. So, should an echo chamber of tweets develop speculating that that the sky is falling over some corporation, all that noise can cascade into a negative market chain reaction that short sellers in particular are waiting to pounce on. Could some of their tweets have amped up echoes that instigated the chain reaction? Max says that can and does happen.

    So, there's big money hanging on tweets. Rumors surrounding NBA draft pick that ping-pong through Twitter can actually affect what contracts players get offered. There are also large political stakes at stake, because politicians have embraced Twitter but aren't always very prudent about using it.

    You may not know that Twitter and some public interest web sites have been duking it out over something called politwoops (1726 Twitter followers). That's a special channel from Twitter of tweets that politicians have decided to delete (which happens quite a lot), searchable by country and jurisdiction. Software can monitor this channel in real time to alert users whenever any politician in a given race pulls back one of his or her prior pronouncements, and some people do just that.

    Twitter served up politwoops from 2012 until very recently. Subscribers would receive a notification every time a political tweet was scrubbed. Utterances that politicians choose to erase from the public record are of great interest to certain parties, particularly opposition parties and candidates and good government groups. Politicians used politwoops to gather dirt to discredit their rivals. The Sunlight Foundation public interest group simply set them free for journalists and members of the public to evaluate for themselves.
  • But then, on May 15, 2015, Twitter pulled the plug on US politwoops. They only fessed up on June third but refused to give any reasons. From then on, it became much harder to know if a political tweet was reneged. Then, last week, Twitter followed suit for the rest of the world (at least 30 countries), and this time said a bit more.

    Twitter said that its decision to suspend access to Politwoops followed a "thoughtful internal deliberation and close consideration of a number of factors" and that it doesn’t distinguish between users. 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"

    Imagine indeed. Imagine that politicians have the same expectation of privacy that you do (which is approaching zero anyway). What makes them think they should not be accountable for their words when they pander in a public forum? Does giving politicians a pass to quietly change their tune during campaigns serve anyone's interest save their own? Max says no; it only makes what passes for political discourse more inane and incoherent.

    We don’t know what prompted Twitter to clamp that particular artery, and we aren't likely to ever find out. Max suspects it may have been occasioned by coordinated complaints from the major parties that politwoops was inhibiting political speech, or similar flim-flam. Now it will become even easier for a pol to say "I think I don't remember" that time his hair was on fire.

    Also last week, Twitter plugged up another channel called diplotwoops, which was a feed of tweets that diplomats and heads of state removed. After announcing on its diplotwoops page (950 followers), no further activity can be observed there.

    It would be fun to look at the three years of woops that are on record to see which politicians in which districts and parties untweeted the most. That might say something about whose ox was being gored and thus who had the most to gain by cancelling the service. Max hopes such a study is forthcoming. Welcome to the political silly season.

    @Image: Wang Lei, Xinhua Press, Corbis via Mashable
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