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This Post Should Be Considered Off the Record

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, September 14 2011

Update: Looks like Whitehouse's staff have decided to go public — their "off the record" pleas were gone from their Twitter profiles not long after I posted this piece.

Staffers for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, don't mind if you read as they pass along hurricane updates or chat with other folks on Twitter. They'll even plug someone's business.

Just don't talk about what you read: Whitehouse's communications director, Seth Larson, deputy press secretary, Richard Pezzillo, and new media director (!), Catherine Algeri, have disclaimers in their Twitter profiles that declare their posts — on public, unprotected accounts — to be off the record.

That's right. Larson's tweet announcing the Senate Ocean Caucus? Strictly on the hush-hush.

Twitter allows users the option of protecting their accounts so that the user can pre-approve their followers and keep tweets out of the public stream; if an account doesn't do that, any posts coming from it are public for anyone to see, slurp up with a program that calls Twitter's application programming interface, or, six months after posting, review in the Library of Congress. Whitehouse's communications staff tweets are about as off the record as this 2008 article Algeri wrote for fundraisingsuccessmag.com, or this Legistorm page that shows information about Larson's salary.

Disclaimers in Twitter profiles are common. People from ABC News' senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper to Gerrit Lansing, press secretary at the Republican-controlled House Budget Committee, sport a tag of the tweets-are-mine-alone and/or retweets-aren't-endorsements category. But "off the record?" On Twitter? That's a new one on me.

Whitehouse's press staffers did not return emails sent last night and this morning requesting comment on the "off the record" flag for their Twitter accounts.

".@CatherineAlgeri, new media dir for @SenWhitehouse says her publicly-viewable tweets are 'off the record,'" web developer Derek Willis wrote in a Twitter post. Hashtag for Algeri's move: "#notquitegraspingtheconcept."

Maybe I shouldn't quote Willis' tweet either, though — after all, he's got a disclaimer on his Twitter profile, too.

"Tweets," he warns, "do not imply much forethought."