Deletes of the Week: Catching delayed deletions on Twitter

Three deleted tweets from the account of Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., that were archived in Politwoops.
Deletions via Politwoops.

There are enough people using Twitter that when someone tweets something particularly bizarre and quickly deletes it, many users may notice it. But as a tweet ages and falls from the recent stream, it’s easier to quietly scrub those statements without getting attention — unless you’re a politician in Politwoops.

This week, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., deleted 15 statements from one of his three Twitter accounts after they were first posted weeks before. The deletions, cherry-picked among other older tweets, ranged from one week to six weeks old.

While Polis ignored multiple requests for comment, a few deletions about Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Iran stood out among the others. In reference to Cotton’s letter signed by 46 of his Republican colleagues opposing a possible nuclear deal with Iran, Polis tweeted, “Tehran Tom took his case directly to the Iranian government,” and “Tehran Tom asks Iranian Revolutionary Guards for help in battle against US diplomats.” At the time, these statements from Polis generated significant controversy. Twitchy labeled the tweets “foul,” and users on Twitter reacted by calling Polis “a corrupt bum, “a horrible person” and saying that he “should be censured by his congressional colleagues.” The Washington Times and Washington Examiner dedicated articles to these tweets from Polis and the reaction.

Now, many weeks after the tweets generated controversy, these 15 deletions can only be found in the Politwoops archive. This episode reinforces how the project holds politicians accountable for their public statements and draws attention to the attempted revisions of history. Previously, Politwoops caught the official account of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, deleting a week old tweet of him posing with a tiger rug even after his spokesperson said, “the office is not defensive of the picture.” Politwoops also was the first to discover that the official account of Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., was systematically deleting all tweets after 26 weeks — a practice that ceased after the Sunlight Foundation brought attention to it. Politwoops exposing these delayed deletions is nothing new, and it will continue as politicians attempt to brush old statements under the rug.

The icon for the Deletes of the Week column.

On a quick programming note, this column will now be known as “Deletes of the Week,” and will include the spiffy new icon seen to the left on the Sunlight Foundation homepage every Friday. Thank you to our talented designer, Nikki Grad, for creating it!

If you have a minute this weekend, please send me an email if you find accounts that Politwoops is missing.