It's often said that journalism is the first draft of history. Now many researchers are adding Twitter to that historical pile and want to ensure Twitter messages are also archived and preserved. The power of Twitter messages, or Tweets, has been linked recently to uprisings in Egypt and Iran.
It seems just as Twitter is becoming a force for political and social change company officials are making it more difficult for researchers to collect messages to analyze.
According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Twitter officials sent notices to several companies that archive Tweets. The notices informed the archive services that "redistributing large numbers of Tweets violated the company's terms of service." Twitter officials apparently have a problem with a third party using its content. Twitter archive companies, such as Twapper Keeper, were forced to basically shut down most service. Last week Twitter revised its rules slightly and at least one site has restored a portion of its archiving functions.
The issue of preserving Tweets and using them in research is confusing. In 2010 the founders of Twitter reached an agreement with the Library of Congress to create a digital archive of the billions of Tweets publicly posted on the site since its founding in 2006. The Library of Congress is testing a system that will give researchers access to public Tweets.
In an email interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, the director of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress, Martha Anderson, said, "We are planning for an introductory pilot that focuses working with researchers to get a better understanding of what we can be provided both technically and policy-wise according to our terms of agreement with the donor," she said. "Our agreement requires that we notify users that they cannot use the data for commercial purposes or redistribute it, in whole or in substantial portions."
Professors, graduate students, and researchers must now wait for some clarification before they can easily collect and use large numbers of Tweets in their work.