The abdication of Juan Carlos I. The terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils.
The Catalan independence referendum.
The disarmament of ETA.
The eruption of the volcano on La Palma.
All these events have marked the recent history of Spain, and all of them have been narrated through Twitter.
The social network that Elon Musk now directs has gained great prominence in recent years, becoming a kind of virtual public square in which everything is discussed.
There are politicians, artists and other public figures who make important announcements only on this platform.
Its relevance is such that some institutions have been compiling what is said in it for some time.
“It is impossible to understand today's world without social networks.
We consider that tweets are information in real time that it was necessary to save to capture the development of events and how they are changing”, explains Jose Carlos Cerdán, one of the managers of the Spanish Web Archive, the Library's digitization project. National.
Since 2016, this initiative has collected everything said by a series of selected Twitter accounts, mainly politicians and official institutions, as well as those of other public figures.
It is a mobile portrait that is enlarged or reduced depending on the moment.
During the pandemic, for example, tweets from scientists and medical societies were collected.
The initiative shows how the work of archivists is adapting to changing times.
Until a few years ago, when something relevant happened and it was decided to document it, it was enough to recover the printed documents that were generated at that historical moment.
That can no longer be done, or at least not as successfully: in the digital age, we are increasingly accustomed to life without paper.
Documents move on the Internet, and the platforms on which they are hosted (for example, web pages and social networks) are very fickle.
They can disappear without warning, taking with them information of interest.
DUE TO POLICE CONTROLS IN THE CITY OF BARCELONA, AVOID DISPLACEMENTS THAT ARE NOT STRICTLY NECESSARY #Barcelona #Rambles
– Civil Protection (@emergenciescat) August 17, 2017
Aware of this, the National Library acquired Heritrix in 2016, an automatic tool that deals with the systematic and massive dumping of tweets, to generate its Twitter repository.
It's the same bot used by the Internet Archive, the San Francisco-based nonprofit organization dedicated to archiving, public web captures, and public-interest multimedia resources.
“During certain specific events, a lot of information is generated in a very short time, which is also very ephemeral because it will not be printed and because some accounts disappear after the information peak.
We keep everything so that it is a kind of time capsule and the researchers can see what happened on those days”, says Cerdán.
The Spanish Web archive, which includes the archive of tweets, currently occupies 1.5 petabytes (one and a half million gigabytes, the equivalent of the memory of 3,000 conventional laptops) and is maintained by a team of four professionals, Among them is Cerdán, supported by around thirty curators from other Spanish libraries.
They expect archivists from university libraries to join them soon.
The United States Library of Congress was the first to launch a similar initiative.
And the most ambitious, since in 2010 it began to store each and every one of the tweets posted on the blue bird's social network.
But the growing popularity of the platform meant that, since January 2018, the institution was forced to select what it registered and what it did not (if in 2010 50 million daily tweets were processed, in 2017 there were already 500 million).
#Cuentalo 12 years, we asked a friend's mom about sex and the first time.
She told us that it is something horrible, that we close our eyes and wait for what happens.
— Nataly Oviedo (@NatyOviiedo) May 1, 2018
Some very relevant events in our recent history have developed or originated on Twitter.
This is the case of the
, or label, #Cuéntalo, which brings together a spontaneous collection of tweets posted on the social network between April and May 2018 in which some 800,000 women shared their personal stories related to gender violence in three million tweets. .
Including rape, sexual assault, and stalking.
This explosion of comments was not accidental: it originated on April 26, the day the sentence of La Manada was made public (they were convicted of sexual abuse and not sexual assault, which would have entailed harsher penalties) and they organized demonstrations in protest of the judicial decision.
That episode caught the attention of Aniol Maria and Vicenç Ruiz, two archivists who decided to record what was being said about it on Twitter.
“It was 15 days with hardly any sleep.
We did live captures, we still didn't have any tools to automate the process”, recalls Maria, professor of archiving at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
They joined forces with two journalists and the Barcelona Supercomputer Center to clean the data, process it and transform it into the Cuéntalo Project, a website where you can check what was said on those days.
To reach this result, it took seven months of work, an interdisciplinary team of five professionals and the computing power of a supercomputer.
It's a good example of how something as seemingly ethereal as a great conversation on Twitter can be presented.
And the value that 240-character messages can hold when they host, for example, testimonials of attacks.
None of this would be possible without the prior work of collecting and preserving tweets.
Because, if they are not saved, they virtually disappear.
“How long has it been since you prepared a photo album from the summer vacation?” Ruiz asks the journalist.
The question comes up.
“Digitization has made it seem like we have the ease of documenting everything like never before.
And also, that all social layers can do it en masse.
It is an illusion: these are documents that you generate, but you do not control, as is the case with Twitter”, abounds this archivist, who currently works in the documentation service of the European Parliament.
Demonstration in Ferguson for the commemoration of the anniversary of the murder of the young black Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer, in 2015. SCOTT OLSON (AFP)
Social networks, especially Twitter, are very powerful tools to make visible problems that previously did not come to light.
It was seen with the case of #Cuéntalo.
They have also been important in the fight for the rights of the LGTBI collective.
Or in the 15M mobilization, among others.
It makes sense to collect all of that.
"We can manage a much richer and more plural cultural heritage, as long as we give a voice to the groups that were previously excluded from the conversation," Ruiz emphasizes.
But to do that, you have to fight the system.
Twitter allows accredited researchers to download what certain users have written from their account, but not the rest of the interactions they have made.
Hence, his colleague Aniol Maria and he have launched particular experiences of systematic collection of tweets in events that they have considered relevant.
The first to realize the potential of this tool were other professional colleagues in Ferguson (Missouri, USA), where an archivists conference was taking place in 2014, when young Michael Brown was killed by police officers.
They decided to get down to business after seeing the torrent of angry and frustrated comments that flooded Twitter and gradually catalyzed a movement, Black Lives Matter, that still endures today.
That was the germ of Documenting the Now, a project for the systematic collection of comments on social networks that illustrate the evolution of American society.
Maria and Ruiz did the same with the attacks in Barcelona.
And since then they have not stopped.
They are clear about their goal.
“If we do not record our digital life, in the long term, we will surely have a great documentary gap about what we are living.
It is very easy to generate content, but very difficult to retain it”, says Ruiz.
They are trying.
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