I’m a little slow on the uptake on this one, but on January 4 on the official Library of Congress blog (yes, of course there’s an official Library of Congress blog), they posted an update regarding their ongoing joint effort with Twitter to archive and make searchable every tweet ever.
In their post, the LoC announce that they’ve successfully transferred (or will by the end of the month) the originally agreed upon archive of tweets from 2006 to 2010 to the Library, and also developed a system for archiving all tweets through the present, as they happen. All told, they’re currently sitting on 170 billion tweets. That’s kind of amazing in its own right, but it also has some really interesting legal and evidentiary implications.
Anyone who’s ever read an article about a celebrity twitter tirade knows that the first step of damage control is to delete the tweets, delete the account, delete everything. Attorneys frequently run into this issue with the social media profiles of opposing parties, which are notoriously rife with helpful evidence: they get wise and they get rid of their profiles. There are some techniques for getting around this – lawyers can be quicker and archive the material, get lucky with a Google cache, or subpoena the service – but too often when it’s gone it’s gone, or it’s too difficult or too costly to get.
As of January 4th, though, the Library of Congress has announced that it’s got an archive of every tweet ever and that they’re updating it in real time. That means that their librarians are there waiting for your kind request (no subpoena needed!) for information, and that hopefully at some point in the near future you’ll be able to search their archive right from your computer.
This obviously raises a number of important questions for society to sort out – what are the bounds of privacy in the digital age? is an online permanent record a good thing? what’s the social cost of all of our advances? – but one thing’s for certain, this archive is going to be great for litigators.