November 11, 2022 | MIT

Twitter’s potential demise puts archive of world’s digital history at stake

ISD Senior Analyst Ciarán O’Connor and OSINT analyst Elise Thomas feature in MIT’s Technology Review discussing Twitter’s potential collapse, and the implications for digital and human history.

Since 2006, the private company has played a crucial role in world events. However, after Elon Musk’ acquisition and subsequent issues to keep the company afloat, many experts are worried about a sudden loss of the “living, breathing historical document”.

The archive is “an enormous opportunity for future historians,” Elise told reporter Christ Stokel-Walker. “We’ve never had the capacity to capture this much data about any previous era in history”. If the site were to go under, Twitter’s vast records would present a storage problem for any organisation that attempts to take the problem on. Some individuals are hoping to rely on third-party services to archive threads and media. But this likely will not be a long-term solution. “The companies behind those services are almost certainly smaller and more transient than Twitter itself, and there’s no real reason to think the content will be preserved forever there either—especially as once Twitter is gone, so is the Twitter thread unrolling company’s business model,” said Elise.  

“If Twitter was to ‘go in the morning’, let’s say, all of this—all of the firsthand evidence of atrocities or potential war crimes, and all of this potential evidence—would simply disappear,” Ciarán said, adding the problematic nature behind our “digital public square” being built on a private company’s servers. A problem we’ll likely have to deal with in the future, according to Elise. “This is perhaps the first really big test of that.”

The full article is available online.