Library of Congress reins in Twitter archives project


The Library of Congress will soon acquire tweets on a selective basis from 2018 having previously held all tweets that were public.

The Library now has a secure collection of tweet text, documenting the first 12 years (2006-2017) of this dynamic communications channel-its emergence, its applications and its evolution.

"As the twelfth year of Twitter draws to a close, the Library has made a decision to change its collection strategy for receipt of tweets on December 31, 2017", the institution announced Tuesday. There are an average 200 billion tweets sent each year, according to tracking site Internet Live Stats. In the future, the institution will narrow its focus to collecting tweets tied to major historical events such as elections or national matters of public policy. It cited the much larger volume of tweets generated now, as well as Twitter's decision to double the character limit from 140 to 280. With help from Twitter itself, the institution acquired all public tweet text (including by countless members of Congress and several United States presidents) published between 2006 and 2010 and a promise to do the same in the years to come. The collection as a whole will remain under embargo "until access issues can be resolved in a cost-effective and sustainable manner".

One reason that the Library is stopping the comprehensive archive?

"Social media is not 'too big to moderate;' it takes time, money, and resources to effectively manage social media content". The explanations given by the Library of Congress, however, are much more straightforward and general than that.

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"With social media now established, the Library is bringing its collecting practice more in line with its collection policies", it said in the document.

"The Twitter Archive may prove to be one of this generation's most significant legacies to future generations".

Others questioned how the institution would determine which tweets are historically important.

This does not mean that the Library of Congress will stop keeping track of some tweets, merely that it won't be trying to log and archive all of them.