The mood on Twitter has changed. After the doomsday scenarios, which have been painted with great attention to detail over the past three weeks, public sentiment is more reminiscent of a wake. The obituaries have already been written and, as usual, the Transfiguration has already begun. What was Twitter? A “marketplace of opinions”, as the new owner put it? Or rather, as one user wrote, a local “crash bar” where “either your wallet gets stolen or you find the love of your life.”
If you ask psychologists, they like to explain the period of grief with a five-phase model consisting of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not surprisingly, the different moods on Twitter are happening in quick succession. After all, language and communication have always been faster and more aggressive here than anywhere else. The medium formed the message.
Riots were planned and war crimes documented here
So if the sinking is a foregone conclusion, it is now a matter of saving what can still be saved. And it is best to start with your own contributions. If you are lucky and in which case the automated systems are still working, you will be sent a compressed folder within a day, in which all actions that you have ever performed on the platform are stored. In this specific case, the archive contains 35 megabytes. 818 tweets, almost 1,200 likes over the past ten years, certainly not the profile of a power user. A mixture of self-promotion, public grumbling and actual human interactions that made Twitter so special and exciting for many users and at some point indispensable. What’s missing from this time capsule, of course, are the others. All the voices and niches that you sometimes hit intentionally and sometimes by accident.
The Library of the US Congress once made it its mission to archive Twitter in its entirety. The project started in 2010, and in 2012 half a billion posts were saved every day. Finally, in 2017, the archivists announced that they were discontinuing the project. The tidal wave that had to be saved every day was too big. Since then, the library has been limited to selected content from already important personalities. Similar but publicly accessible projects work like political woops or political tweetin which the messages of the powerful are stored to hold them accountable.
The public once again has the problem that public discourse is stored on the servers of a private company. The same mechanisms have been observed as other once-essential online platforms have gone out of service or faltered. But while Flickr, Myspace or Geocities were mainly about private photos, self-recorded songs or first attempts at web design, Twitter is a contemporary historical document that depicts the major conflicts in real time. Here uprisings were planned, war crimes documented and front lines marked. It is teeming with significant content from the last 16 years that could help tomorrow’s historians understand today’s world.