“Official communication” and the national Twitter archives?

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs recently announced that anything he tweets from now on, or anything tweeted from the official White House Twitter Accounts like @WhiteHouse, will now be archived in the official presidential records. Gibbs says this will now be “analogous to sending an e-mail to the White House, which is already archived” and will be archived as a part of this Presidential Records Act of 1978. The article also notes that retweets and followers will not be archived, but direct replies will be. More interesting than this CNN Political Ticker article were the comments – most in poor grammar – on this topic of archived communication.

While some have made positive comments, like “welcome to the 21st century,” others see this inclusion as idoiocracy: “imagine that, a tweet from a twit will now go down in history.” As always, some even manage to link the topic to disdain for the Obama Administration and the stimulus package: “Guess the president will count this as a job he created, only cost 787 billion and already existed-democratic math at its best.”

This raises an interesting question of “official communication.” What is official communication? While official communication may in the past have been signed and sealed letters and memos, technology has opened up ample new channels of communication. At what point do new forms of communication become old? At what point do novelty forms become legitimate? At what point was the memo new? And then old? And then an email and so on and so forth.

What of “official” two-way communication? The fact that direct replies to the White House Twitter accounts will also be archived shows a respect for this two-way communication as “official.” As social media channels are used more and more to facilitate two-way communication and stimulate conversation, the conversations over channels like Twitter become more relevant and worth archiving than simply what the White House tweets.

If social media channels like Twitter are being used to communicate legitimate information that would have otherwise been communicated through another channel, then why shouldn’t that communication method be treated similarly? Why shouldn’t it be archived? While social media has created a backlash among those who see it as superficial and a waste of time, we should all just see tools like Twitter for what they truly are: simply channels of communication.


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