Whose tweets are these anyway? (What happens when election campaign tweets get deleted?)

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Today, there was a bit of a flurry of tweets after the official Twitter account by SPD candidate for chancelor, Peer Steinbrück, sent this tweet:

deleted tweet

… and then deleted it. (Screenshot from Politwoops)

Because it can be hard to read, the tweet says: “Wann hat sich ein Kanzlerkandidat irgendeiner Partei schon mal für Netzpolitik interessiert! Wann? cc @pottblog” (translation: When did any party’s candidate for chancellor have any interest in net politics before? When?)

In general, deleting tweets isn’t considered good style. Fair enough.

Before I continue, full disclosure: I once was an advisor to the federal youth campaign for SPD, back in 2009, and as a student job I worked on the SPD 2005 campaign as well. I don’t have any business relationship with the party now.

So, now that that’s out of the way, I think there are several aspects to look at this.

One, overall etiquette. Should tweets ever be deleted (if so, when is it acceptable), and if they are, should it be marked? I tend to go a pretty pragmatic way: If something’s posted accidentally, delete the tweet or say it in the next tweet. This, and that’s important to stress, doesn’t serve to hide the information, but to help prevent the spreading of information that wasn’t intended to be published. In other words, both the deletion and the clarifying statement serve (IMHO) as a statement of intention: “please don’t spread this, it was an honest mistake and not intended to be published”. If something’s tweeted on purpose but simply wrong, never delete but own up. Also, be aware that no tweets stays deleted, ever, because what’s out there is out there.

Two, if something is tweeted, like in this case obviously, accidentally on one account but was meant for another. (According to Twitwoops, the fantastic services that archives tweets deleted from politicians’ accounts, the tweet in question was deleted within half a minute.) If, in other words, something that was meant to be a tweet from the personal account of a member of the election campaign team that has access to the candidate’s twitter account as is normal and as it should have, then what’s the best next step? Does a tweet, even if by technical/human error sent from a candidate’s account, count as “their tweet”? Frankly I don’t think so.

Here’s the original tweet, from the owner, and surely it’s harmless enough in this context:

Tobias Nehren (Fison) on Twitter

So, I don’t know what the best practice is. But I do know that a bit of common sense helps put this things in context. In my experience as someone who pretty much posts stuff online all day and who’s also been heavily involved in election campaigns where things tend to move very fast, more often than not there’s no intention to hide things but simple, honest mistakes. We’re all human.