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The Best Twitter Bots for Keeping Tabs on the Government

A bot that tweets when SCOTUS laughs out loud, and more.

by Sarah Jeong
Nov 3 2015, 10:38pm

Image: Shutterstock

Twitter bots range from being absolutely charming to being absolutely the worst. Somewhere in the middle are the government transparency twitter bots. The most utilitarian and civic-minded of the Twitter bots, most of these seize onto a regularly updating source of information and tweet something out based on the changes.

Some of them are downright silly (like @LOLSCOTUS, which tweets out page numbers in Supreme Court oral argument transcripts where laughter is recorded) but some of them are a little intense—like the Politwoops accounts, which tweet out the deleted tweets of politicians.

Maybe you're looking for real-time updates to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts docket, or maybe you want to catch the next time someone from a Capitol Hill IP address edits Wikipedia. In any case, here's a round-up of some great government transparency Twitter bots:

1) LOL SCOTUS

@LOLSCOTUS doesn't tweet in real-time, per se. It begins tweeting as soon as Supreme Court oral argument transcripts are released, noting each time "(Laughter.)" appears in the transcripts.

[From Lockhart v. United States]

Each of the tweets links out to the transcript and the page.

It's convenient and digestible way to find out how many times SCOTUS laughed during oral argument over a death penalty case. (Answer: way more than you'd care to know, tbh.)

2) congress-editors

@congresseditors tweets every time someone edits a Wikipedia article about Congressional legislation or a member of the United States Congress. Each tweet contains the name of the article, the name of the editor, and a link to the "Difference between revisions" page.

3) congress-edits

@congressedits is a slightly creepier variation on a similar theme—it tweets out every time an article or page is edited from Congressional IP addresses. Spoiler: there are a lot of edits to Congressmen's Wikipedia pages. Definitely worth following for the lols and the slow drip of acid on your faith in democracy.

4) SCOTUS Servo

Sometimes the Supreme Court of the United States reuploads copies of its decisions, and @scotus_servo is there to catch it. Sometimes its tweets are false alarms, but every now and then it catches an honest-to-god typo, in case you're one of those people who actually cares that SCOTUS accidentally a word now and then.

5) FISA Court

@FISACourt has an awfully official sounding Twitter name, but it's actually a bot that tweets updates from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) docket. The bot joined Twitter in June 2013, the same month of the Snowden revelations, just as public interest in FISC rose to a level it never had before.

The vast majority of what FISC does is secret. But what isn't gets tweeted as it's made available.

The account has had 359 tweets in its lifetime. Well, you take what you can get.

6) Politwoops

Ah, the classic Politwoops—a large, broad-ranging project by the Sunlight Foundation to preserve the deleted tweets of politicians. The project not only looked at US politicians, but also politicians from the UK and even the larger EU. Other variations included Diplotwoops, which looked at the tweets of diplomats.

Politwoops itself was never just a Twitter account, per se—its primary work was to log changes into a searchable public database—but automated Twitter accounts did play a part (for example, the British @deletedbyMPs).

Politwoops was denied access to the Twitter developer API in June, effectively shutting down the project. The rest of the project was completely shut down in August.

While it lasted, Politwoops was a bountiful gift, a delightful fountain of questionable social media choices and outright gaffes.

"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," Twitter said in August, when it announced its decision to kill Politwoops. Oh for sure man.

Since Jack Dorsey became CEO, there's been some speculation that Twitter will bring back Politwoops. Until then, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with SCOTUS lolling.