If you’ve often passed the time perusing the Twitter archives of the Library of Congress, you’re going to need to find a new hobby. Not because the said archive is at all uninteresting (it does, after all, contain literally every single tweet to every be sent), but rather because it won’t exist in quite the same capacity after Monday, December 31. Alas, the research library will no longer keep a detailed social media record. Rather than collecting each and every 140-character (or now, 280-character) thought that pops into the Twitterverse’s collective head, the Library will now “acquire tweets on a selective basis.” That means that your Twitter complaint about how long the lunch line was today probably won’t live in perpetuity, at least, not within the Library of Congress.
The expansive archive was a project first announced in 2010. In an impressive project with Twitter, the library gathered a repository of all the tweets sent between 2006 and 2010, and continued to collect all public tweet text from 2010 until, well, now. “The Library took this step for the same reason it collects other materials — to acquire and preserve a record of knowledge and creativity for Congress and the American people,” the institution wrote in an announcement.
But since then, times have changed, and so, too, have social media platforms. Not only are there now more services available but as the Library noted, there are also more privacy concerns and shifting service terms. As such, 2017 will be the last full year in which all public tweet is saved by the Library of Congress.
It’s unclear exactly how tweets will be selected, though the Library is said to be working together with Twitter once again to establish these parameters. In a white paper, however, the Library notes, “Generally, the tweets collected and archived will be thematic and event-based, including events such as elections, or themes of ongoing national interest, e.g. public policy.”
To be fair, this change likely won’t affect all that many people. After all, it is mainly researchers who are interested in looking back at tweets from a decade ago — the rest of us, on the other hand, probably are more interested in our Instagram feeds. All the same, if you have a project that depends upon the Library of Congress Twitter archive, be aware that the database will be temporarily inaccessible while the Library deals with a few technical issues. No word yet on when it will reopen.
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