Tweets Are Not Forever: We’re Losing 11% Of Our Digital History Every Year

If you’re under the impression that once something is put on the web it’s there forever, you might be mistaken. New research suggests that when it comes to major events documented on social media, we’re losing up to 11 percent of our content every year.

Prominent cultural events like the Egyptian uprising in early 2011 and Michael Jackson’s death were recently examined by a group of researchers to see how their digitally-archived history holds up. And – while it’s not crumbling the way thousand-year-old books might – it’s not standing up to the test of time like it probably should.

If you were part of the many thousands of Twitter users who sent news articles, tweeted links to resources and otherwise participated in the events surrounding the Arab Spring, you’ll understand how powerful Twitter was during the uprisings. Millions of tweets were sent, hashtags were created and information was passed from one corner of the world to another at the speed of thought.

But Hany SalahEldeen and Michael Nelson of Old Dominion University found that this social media-heavy conversation is fading every day.

They found that a good chunk of the websites and articles that tweets linked to have already disappeared. This means that, while the tweet itself might still exist, the larger discussion and context may not.

And this pattern of disappearance held true not just for the Arab Spring uprisings, but for Michael Jackson’s death, the H1N1 virus outbreak and other significant events in the recent past.

The researchers examined the tweets surrounding these events, and isolated the URLs that users were sharing. They then checked to see if this content was still available, either as an active website or an archive.

Each day, they discovered, the world loses approximately 0.02 percent of its culturally-significant information shared via social media. A year after an event has occurred, 11 percent of its information has disappeared; two years after the event, 27 percent is gone.

You can read their full findings in the journal article Losing My Revolution: How Many Resources Shared On Social Media Have Been Lost?

(Hat tip: Technology Review; Write and erase image via Shtuterstock)