Tweets Are Forever

Our information consuming society has managed to swing the august Library of Congress onto its side with Twitter of all possible things. The Library of Congress, one of my favorite places in my adopted hometown, announced that every Twitter message ever sent would be cataloged in the Library’s archives.  What a coup for the guys who took the world’s biggest chat room with a memory, called it microblogging, and pushed the world to communicate in 140 characters.

Federal recognition of new media is wonderful.  The executive branch’s on and off embrace of digital media has helped get the ball rolling, and that’s a good thing.   But I often defend social media as a communications channel while acknowledging that you have to sift through a lot of junk to find anything remotely useful. That is the heart of my concern with the Library’s announcement.

About 50 million tweets are sent every day according to their announcement. While this may be a sociologist’s treasure trove, is there really historical, archival significance in tens of billions of short messages?  That’s an awful lot of sifting through a lot of misinformation, spam and “Good morning, Twitter. Yum, I have coffee!” messages” The misinformation bothers me most.  Communications experts will undoubtedly love to track and detail the failed communications and what prompted different individuals to write.

Despite the mess, there are a few things you need to consider with this being the most important: What you say in at least one (for now) social media channel will now be indexed by the government and undoubtedly parsed many different ways.  That parsed data will then likely be made available to individuals at some future time. Don’t be naive and think that this rich social and demographic information isn’t already indexed by a number of governments, corporations and other organizations.   The intriguing and somewhat scary part is the comprehensive nature of the index and the intersections that world-class data analysts can draw from linguistics, followers, time of day and dozens of other elements. I don’t remember another instance where a new media company has given its entire dataset to the federal government, and I’m still not sure how I feel about some of the erroneous conclusions that people may draw from that data in the future. How do you feel about it?  Does having the entire database create a privacy issue?  Would it be different if this were Facebook?

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