At least you tried.
Starting Jan. 1, the Library of Congress will curtail what’s been a seven-year effort to collect and archive every single utterance on Twitter. A Tuesday missive from the federal institution notes that, come 2018, “the Library will acquire tweets on a selective basis.”
In 2010, Twitter sent the Library a full archive of every tweet posted to date, extending back to the social network’s inception in 2006. The Library continued the effort from there, cataloging Twitter posts “to acquire and preserve a record of knowledge and creativity for Congress and the American people.”
A recent review of the Library’s process led to the realization that Twitter has fundamentally changed. People are tweeting more now than they have before, the tweets themselves have gotten longer, and the cataloging process leaves out images, videos, and linked content — all of which are essential to many posts.
The Library’s existing record of Twitter’s first 12 years isn’t going anywhere, but — as an included white paper points out — it isn’t the institution’s usual practice to gather data comprehensively.
“Given the unknown direction of social media when the gift was first planned, the Library made an exception for public tweets,” the white paper reads. “With social media now established, the Library is bringing its collecting practice more in line with its collection policies.”
The policy change raises a number of questions that aren’t answered in the announcement and have yet to be answered by the Library (we’ve reached out for comment).
Specifically, we’d like to know more about what “selective collection” means. There are plenty of official government accounts out there, from those belonging to individual members of Congress to entire agencies, such as @NASA or @CIA.
And of course, there are also plenty of personal accounts used for official purposes. There’s no better example than Donald Trump, who leans on Twitter as a preferred means of communication but writes his own tweets almost exclusively from his @RealDonaldTrump account.
The white paper offers a vague description of the Library’s future cataloging plans, but it doesn’t address these more specific questions that we — and likely plenty of others — have.
“The Library will focus its efforts on preserving the Twitter collection for future generations. Throughout its history, the Library has seized opportunities to collect snapshots of unique moments in human history and preserve them for future generations. These snapshots of particular moments in history often give voice to history’s silent masses: ordinary people.”
The Library then points to examples like oral histories chronicling the hours after the Pearl Harbor attack that marked the United States’ entry into World War II, and video footage from San Francisco, before and after the devastating earthquake of 1906.
“The Twitter Archive may prove to be one of this generation’s most significant legacies to future generations. Future generations will learn much about this rich period in our history, the information flows, and social and political forces that help define the current generation.”
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