This is completely unacceptable.
As documented by Kevin Marks, at the “code” level, a Tweet embed includes details like the text inside a Tweet. This was done intentionally to ensure that content could still be displayed if a Tweet was eventually deleted. With this, journalists could preserve content and context as a matter of record in their reporting, ensuring that quotes were not lost to digital entropy.
When Marks pointed out this behavior to Twitter’s engineering department, Eleanor Harding (a product manager at Twitter) responded that the change was by design and meant to respect users when they opted to delete a Tweet, regardless of whether it was a subject of news or an important matter of public record.
This raises an interesting ethical question. While Twitter is often a tool for journalists to “do” journalism, the company has made it clear with this action that its priority is its customers, who might want their privacy respected in a European “right to be forgotten” way – not that we have any such rights in the US. But, much as certain important People on Twitter were considered at one point to be legally prevented from blocking access to their Tweets, at times, a Tweet can be an important matter of public record. This prevents journalists from documenting and quoting that material reliably.
Tweets can still be captured via screenshot for reporting, but those are less accessible to visually impaired readers (particularly those that might rely on text-to-speech tools, for which an embed works easily, but an image might not). The potential context of a Tweet, which often adds important nuance to the statement, is also lost when a screenshot is used in place of an embed. And, if an embed is preferred for its advantages, the authors and editors of a site may not be aware when a tweet is deleted to replace it with a screenshot – there’s no automated fallback, as there was before.
Automatically deleting Tweets after a certain period is a popular practice now, meaning Twitter’s change has already broken countless articles, interfering with historical context and citation in older stories.
Importantly, the inherent trust between Twitter and journalists is now broken when using Twitter embeds. Although the content included in a Tweet remains on the page at a code level, Twitter is now modifying sites like ours to actively remove that content. Few journalists would consent to allow a company to edit their work, nor should Twitter impose that as a requirement for using its services.
Above: What a deleted Tweet looks like right now. Below: An idea of what they used to like (via Kevin Marks).
While Twitter’s upcoming edit button feature was concerning enough when it came to the mutability of the public record amid our modern rise of revisionist history, this change seems to be actively making Twitter unfriendly to news and journalists as a source of information.
Android Police will be screenshotting all Tweets going forward, and the question of disabling Twitter embeds entirely has been raised internally, given the ethical violation that relying on the tool now imposes. While this will impact the ability to click through to a Tweet and view its context, it seems like the only recourse when Twitter’s embedded functionality is now being used to edit our site content without our consent.
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