Today, the Library of Congress announced it will no longer collect all public tweets, beginning on January 1—a project it began seven years ago and has continued since, perhaps out of some sweet, misguided sense that future historians will have time to ponder the thousands of missives posted to the site every second instead of reinventing primitive tools once a tweet sparks a nuclear war.
In a post on its website and a short white paper, the Library noted it would retain the data it had already received from Twitter, which contains everything publicly posted to the “dynamic communications channel” between 2006 and 2017. In 2010, the year the library launched the program, Drake’s sad-boy musings were among the most retweeted and the top three trending subjects were (in order of appearance) the Gulf Oil Spill, FIFA World Cup, and Inception. Truly a simpler time.
Since then, Twitter has become an endlessly scrolling mess of racist memes, “authenticated” 200-tweet tantrums, and troll accounts. Or, as gently characterized by the Library itself:
(a) The nature of Twitter has changed over time.
i. The volume of tweets and related transactions has evolved and increased dramatically since the initial agreement was signed. Update on the Twitter Archive at the Library of Congress, December, 2017
ii. The Library only receives text. It does not receive images, videos or linked content. Tweets now are often more visual than textual, limiting the value of text-only collecting.
iii. Twitter is expanding the size of tweets beyond what was originally described at the beginning of effort.
The Library of Congress writes it will continue to “acquire tweets on a selective basis,” which will probably require more effort than Twitter itself has put into solving its well-documented Nazi problem.
Our hearts go out to the archivists whose job it will be to determine which tweets will enter the historical record as evidence that we brought this all on ourselves.