Elon Musk, the CEO of Twitter, decimated the social media platform’s staff to the degree that experts fear its imminent demise. (Source: Wikimedia Commons by JD Lasica via Flickr)

Worries of Disappearing Record of History Crop Up as Twitter Teeters

MIT’s Technologyreview.com, one of the most reliable sources of tech and Silicon Valley news, recently ran a story with the headline, “Twitter’s Potential Collapse Could Wipe Out Vast Records of Recent Human History.” Noting the stock price drop and a million users abandoning the platform, the author of the article, Chris Stokel-Walker, talked to analysts and even a digital archivist about the possible demise of what was once considered a critical information source–especially in repressive countries.

“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,” says Ciaran O’Connor, senior analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a global think tank. Information gathered using open-source intelligence, known as OSINT, has been used to support prosecutions for war crimes and acts as a record of events long after the human memory fades.

Twitter contains “significant content” from its founding in 2006 that even the Library of Congress couldn’t keep up with simply because of the sheer volume. It’s been considered a valuable resource for recording information on everything from the Arab Spring to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“In a way, Twitter has become a kind of aggregator of information,” says Eliot Higgins, founder of open-source investigators Bellingcat, who helped bring the perpetrators who downed MH17 to justice. “A lot of this stuff you see from Ukraine, the footage comes from Telegram channels that other people are following, but they’re sharing it on Twitter.”

Even if Twitter declares bankruptcy and collapses, users have begun backing up their content, according to the story, and the Internet Archive is storing content.

But both methods are not without their own issues: multimedia often isn’t stored alongside such methods of archiving tweets—something that would affect the vast numbers of accounts posting images and videos from Iran’s revolution, or documenting Russia’s invasion of Twitter—while accessing the information easily requires knowing the exact URL of any given tweet. “You may have trouble finding that if it’s not already been preserved in some way somewhere else on the internet,” says Higgins.

Some think Musk is sabotaging the platform, while others believe he will find a way to add value. In the meantime, it’s not clear how the content its servers contain will be preserved, if at all, in the case of its shutdown. Ben Krueger,  a site reliability engineer who has more than two decades of experience in the tech industry, said Twitter could break and shut down in a matter of weeks because of the layoffs that decimated its support staff. The platform needs constant maintenance because of its size, he said.

read more at technologyreview.com