In 2010, the Library of Congress started archiving every single public tweet that was published on Twitter. It even retroactively acquired all tweets dating back to 2006. But the Library of Congress will stop archiving every tweet on 31 December 2017. Why is it stopping? Because tweets are trash now.
The Library of Congress issued a white paper this month saying that it was proud of its comprehensive collection of tweets from the first 12 years of Twitter, but that it’s completely unnecessary for it to continue. Instead, the organisation will only collect tweets that it deems historically significant. For instance, President Trump’s tweets are almost certainly still going to be saved for future generations.
One reason that the Library is stopping the comprehensive archive? The social media company’s controversial change to allow 280 character tweets.
The Library’s halt on collection of all tweets puts Twitter more in line with the way that other digital collections are archived, including websites. The Library of Congress only archives websites on a selective basis, unlike the nonprofit, non-governmental organisation the Internet Archive, which has a much broader goal of archiving everything online with its Wayback Machine.
The Library of Congress also noted that many tweets include photos and video and that it has only been collecting text, making some of its collection worthless.
“The Library generally does not collect comprehensively,” the Library of Congress said in a statement. “Given the unknown direction of social media when the [collection of tweets] was first planned, the Library made an exception for public tweets. With social media now established, the Library is bringing its collecting practice more in line with its collection policies.”
So when will future historians get to dig into the vast Twitter archive currently being held by the US government? Not anytime soon. The tweets are embargoed for a still-undetermined period of time. But the Library sees its collection effort as a success that will prove invaluable to the people of tomorrow.
“The Twitter Archive may prove to be one of this generation’s most significant legacies to future generations,” the Library of Congress said. “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.”
The part left unstated? Those “political forces” on Twitter helped propel an imbecile to the White House. Hopefully, humanity survives long enough to study the impact Twitter had on this garbage decade. The Library may even get to collect the tweet that starts a nuclear war. Wouldn’t that be something. [Library of Congress blog and Library of Congress White Paper]