Twitter: An Archive

As time goes on, some historians can become increasingly resourceful in their methods of accruing historical evidence, and we kind of have to. I could be wrong in this (but something just tells me I’m not), fewer and fewer people are recording their lives in diaries and in journals. However, social media tends to capture a broad swathe of things from people’s diary-like thoughts, political views, scholarly perspectives, and seemingly random ideas. In Twitter’s most basic form, it encourages rapid and seemingly instantaneous delivery. The 140 characters encourage stream of consciousness blurbs, because there are few limits to content. The articles we read for this week mostly focus on the use of Twitter as a networking tool. Truthfully, the social groups formed by the social networking can be very beneficial for us; the AHA Blog “Five Ways for Historians to Use Twitter” promotes following organizations, using hashtags, tweeting, sharing resources, and job hunting, which are important for folks within any profession. However, what this does not account for  is the new way in which we are experiencing history in our day to day life. Participating in social media and popular media, whether an “accurate” account or not,  is one way in which we all play a role in constructing our future’s history, which is certainly  something we should all be cognizant of.

Foremost, Twitter, in a sense, provides us an ongoing catalogue of contemporary history. Student activist movements in Europe utilized twitter to organize their movements. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has filled the social media. The same advantages that bring historians together bring large groups together. If we know anything from our depictions of the past, these groups are the ones that have a prominent presence in our history books and our museums. Social media then can be looked at as a unique archive, catalogued by the very people participating in history. In an archive, various people are charged with the task of creating a folksonomy for collections upon collections of unsorted documents from postcards and personal letters to business transactions and official newspaper announcements. If we are lucky, the person already provided a sense of organization when they donated their materials. While still needing to sift through to establish what fits into the most relevant goals in an archive, the various individuals and organizations that participate utilize the hashtag to establish their sense of order to their ideas and moments. Further, twitter itself is organized by date and by poster. It brings a new sense to the archival idea of “original order,” and the hashtags create a good way in which to easily sort through specific events.

Aside from an original order or archival strategy for looking at various groups.  In recent years, Twitter and social media has also certainly opened the floodgates on reporting perspectives on historic moments “as they happen.”  In 2015, the attacks on Paris were captured by social media and rapidly people around the globe rallied around Paris as it was happening and afterward. Further back in 2011, the raid on  Abbotabad that lead to Osama Bin Laden’s  capture was unknowingly live Tweeted by Sohaib Athar, a man who was simply annoyed in the middle of the night by helicopters and planes flying overheard. For public historians this does create a sizable advantage; we can capture events as it happens. In the comments on Alexander Collie’s interview of Katrina Gulliver, Newton Alexander  opposes Twitter’s usage by saying “[t]he only concrete advantage that I can discern from this discussion is that Twitter provides quick access to information on fast-moving news events, which I think is outweighed by the fact that the information cannot be trusted. I have yet to hear of one good reason for scholars to join the masses frittering away their time on social media.” The main weakness he distinguishes is the notion of “accuracy.” However, in the event of these occurrences, the important point is not necessarily accuracy. It’s the narrative. Public narrative shapes public perspectives history, “accurate” or not. Social media is a primary and essential resource in today’s shaping of the public narrative.
Further reading:




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