Last week, our friends across the office at DC9 introduced us to a new way to creep on people in the Twitterverse: Undetweetable, an invention by professor Dr. Dean Terry and grad student Bradley Griffith, both of the Emerging Media + Communication program at the University of Texas at Dallas. Undetweetable lets you read deleted Tweets from any user you enter into their database. In the last week, it's been featured on Gizmodo, Business Insider and a ton of smaller publications.
But it looks like the party's over: Griffith tweeted last night that Twitter sent him a cease and desist letter that, in his words, looked #legit. Griffith didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but he writes in a Facebook post that the site "might go until they sue us. As far as I'm concerned, it's a common practice that we are simply illuminating."
Terry tells Unfair Park that what they received wasn't actually a legal cease and desist, but a warning that Undetweetable violates the Application Programming Interface (API) that Twitter makes available to third-party app developers. Terry, incidentally, doesn't dispute that Undetweetable technically misuses the API. That's kind of the point.
"The point of the project is to test limits, to question privacy, data ownership and explore the idea of the permanence of online expression: 'Is anything ever deleted?'" says Terry, who came up with the concept that Griffith turned into reality. "I could write an essay about this, but I'd rather make an experience for people to experience themselves."
He says he thinks programs like Undetweetable might make social media users (which is to say, everybody) think a little harder about what they're posting.
"There's this feeling they didn't have before that maybe they should have," says Terry, maker of the 2007 documentary Subdivided: Isolation & Community in America, about the fight to keep McMansions out of Little Forest Hills. "I always wanted to do something that made people pay more attention when they pressed 'Send,' and I think we've done that. That's the goal."
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As far as Griffith's Facebook statement that the site would keep operating right up to the point of a lawsuit, Terry says, "We're not going to do that. We're not going to let them sue us. It's just not going to go that far."
The whole experience, Terry says, has been "a fantastic learning experience" for Griffith and the rest of the EMAC grad program.
"Basically this project explores in the real world in real time some of the same areas we discuss in EMAC classes and readings, like identity, anonymity, pseudonymity, data ownership, authorship and privacy," he says. "It's just that we're doing it with a real world project."
Terry said the site would probably stay up "a few more days." So get your ninja-level web stalking in right now, people.