Opinion Brief

Should the government save every Tweet?

The Library of Congress is archiving every 140-character post on social-networking site Twitter. A good idea?

Are you a Twitter user? Then congratulations — your everyday, 140-character updates may have won you a place in the Library of Congress. The venerable institution is adding the vast majority of tweets sent since March 2006 to its online archives to save them for posterity. Given Twitter users post around 55 million messages a day, that's a lot of data. Is it a good idea to record every spur-of-the-moment tweet?

It's a worthy snapshot of American culture: Twitter's content might seem trivial, says Jared Keller in The Atlantic, but it provides "important insights into the minds of average Americans." Almost one in five internet users in America use Twitter to share their thoughts. Everything on it, even "feverish anticipation of the newest Justin Bieber album," is evidence of the "constantly metamorphosing character of American culture." That's worth preserving. "Twitter is forever"

Don't I get a say about this? But there's an ownership issue here, says Heidi N. Moore in Big Money. Twitter users never agreed to provide "free history to a bunch of lazy rubberneckers," and Twitter never told us our tweets would become "permanent and searchable." Just because something is on the Web "doesn't mean it belongs to the government." "Wait, who says my Tweets belong to Google or the Library of Congress?

Twitter might change because of this: Great, says Karl Bode in Techdirt. Now, the nation's thoughts on "the Twilight films, shampoo choices, or weekend plans" will be preserved for posterity. The Library of Congress thinks Twitter's "everyday chatter" will be useful context for historians of the future, but you have to wonder whether such "permanence" will change the way people use it. Maybe Twitter's "off-the-cuff" style will change now that it's been legitimized."Library of Congress to store your inane twitter chatter for all eternity"

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