The Library of Congress announced today that it will no longer add every public tweet to its archives, an ambitious project it launched seven years ago. 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. Instead, starting on Jan. 1, the Library will be more selective about what tweets to preserve, a decision it explained in a whitepaper.
“Generally, the tweets collected and archived will be thematic and event-based, including events such as elections, and themes of ongoing national interest, e.g. public policy,” the Library wrote. (In other words, all of President Donald Trump’s tweets will most likely be preserved, but probably not your breakfast pics).
In 2010, the Library began saving all public tweets “for the same reason it collects other materials—to acquire and preserve a record of knowledge and creativity for Congress and the American people,” its announcement said. This included the backlog of all public tweets since Twitter launched in 2006, which the company donated.
The volume and longer length of tweets now means collecting every single public one is no longer practical. Furthermore, the Library only archives text and the fact that many tweets now contain images, videos or links means a text-only collection is no longer as valuable.
“The Library generally does not collect comprehensively,” it explained. “Given the unknown direction of social media when the gift 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.”
Other projects the Library has embarked on in order to ensure that the experiences and memories of ordinary people are part of the historical record include the American Folklife Center, which runs the Veterans History Project and collects dialect recordings, among other initiatives.