A Year After the Egyptian Revolution, 10% of Its Social Media Documentation Is Already Gone
In April, OR Books published Tweets from Tahrir, a book of tweets sent from Ground Zero of the democratic revolution that played out in Egypt last year. The book, its promotions declare, “brings together a selection of key tweets in a compelling, fast-paced narrative, allowing the story of the uprising to be told directly by the people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. History has never before been written in this fashion.”
But tweets are fragile things. A year after the Tahrir’s tweets were posted, much of the information they first shared has gone missing. According to a study conducted by Hany SalahEldeen Khalil, a phD student in computer science and Web preservation at Old Dominion University, a third of the images initially included in Tweets from Tahrir — 7 out of 23 — seem to have disappeared entirely from the Web. A small slice of the historical record, gone — archived not digitally, but in the pages of a book.
Those tweets, though, were lucky. Most social media content doesn’t have the luxury of paper-bound back-up. Services like Storify have risen up not only to curate social media, but also to archive its content; those services, however, rely on third-party partner relationships — they refer to media assets, rather than storing them — and so work as archives only in the broadest sense.
On Storify, in SalahEldeen’s sample, 222 of the set’s tweets pointed to external resources like images, videos, and links. Today, only 198 of those tweets retain those external assets — a loss of nearly 11 percent.