Monday, October 15, 2012

Where Does Social Media "Go"?

We all know that social media outlets can be incredibly powerful. For example, the power of Twitter was made blatantly obvious in Egypt during January 2011 when political protests were organized online. 

However, a recent look into Egypt's uprising has revealed that some of this information has disappeared.  Hany M. SalahEldeen and Michael L. Nelson at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, conducted the research and revealed that the information from Egypt's 2011 protest and many other culturally significant events were missing from the Twitter's history of tweets.

Eldeen and Nelson reviewed tweets from June 2009 to March 2012 in search of information on 6 culturally significant events (Iranian elections, Michael Jackson's death, the H1N1 outbreak,  Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, the Egyptian revolution, and the recent Syrian uprising). Their research revealed a surprising end.

“Social media content has grown exponentially in the recent years and the role of social media has evolved from just narrating life events to actually shaping them. In this paper we explore how many resources shared in social media are still available on the live web or in public web archives. By analyzing six different event-centric datasets of resources shared in social media in the period from June 2009 to March 2012, we found about 11% lost and 20% archived after just a year and an average of 27% lost and 41% archived after two and a half years. Furthermore, we found a nearly linear relationship between time of sharing of the resource and the percentage lost, with a slightly less linear relationship between time of sharing and archiving coverage of the resource. From this model we conclude that after the first year of publishing, nearly 11% of shared resources will be lost and after that we will continue to lose 0.02% per day.”

The real mystery: to where do our social media posts "vanish"?

We have all been led to believe that once something is put online, it forever leaves our technology fingerprint for generations to uncover. One key element of social media is that it can act as an archive for upcoming generations to obtain information.

On the other hand, some information shouldn't be disseminated at all, let alone archived. How this discovery change the way we communicate on sites such as Twitter? Is it a good thing that our words can be erased from the online archives?  Or is it a frightening to think our history will vanish from cyberspace?

What do you think?

Monica Pierce is the Head Intern of the Texas Social Media Research Institute based at Tarleton State University.  You can find her on Twitter as @MrsMonicaPierce.

Rosen, R.J. (2012). The Race to Preserve History as It Happens Online. The Atlantic. Retrieved
     from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/09/the-race-to-preserve-history-as-it-

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