White House agrees to save Trump tweets for National Archives

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has advised the Trump administration to keep a record of all presidential tweets – even ones that were later altered or deleted.

J. David Ake/AP
President Trump's Twitter feed is photographed on a computer screen in Washington on Monday. The National Archives is telling the White House to keep each of Mr. Trump's tweets, even those he deletes or corrects.

Presidents Trump's famous tweets will be preserved for posterity at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), according to archive head David Ferriero.

The tweets had already been preserved as a matter of public record, but Sens. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri and Tom Carper (D) of Delaware had raised concerns over tweets that had been deleted or otherwise altered on the president's account. In a letter, Mr. Ferriero told the senators that the White House had agreed to preserve all presidential tweets, even deleted or alternate versions, in keeping with the Presidential Records Act.

Mr. Trump's unconventional personal Twitter account has found itself at the center of a number of controversies, churning out more than its share of knee-jerk statements and conflicting information. But despite the criticisms leveled against many of the president's tweets, the seemingly unfiltered mouthpiece of the president has attracted the attention of traditional media, critics, and supporters alike, says Josh Pasek, a communication studies professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.

"President Trump's tweets are covered instantaneously by the media, have been regarded by various political actors as a key indicator of policy, and have been shown to influence the stock market," Dr. Pasek tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. "If nobody cared about these tweets or they were not covered by the media, they would not have a huge impact. Given the tendency to cover them already, archiving the tweets is unlikely to introduce a substantive shift in their importance."

Some have questioned whether the tweets are worth preserving, especially ones that contain inaccurate or misleading information. One of Trump's tweets, for example, claimed that then-President Barack Obama had wiretapped then-candidate Trump's office during the presidential campaign – an unfounded allegation that has been strongly denied by many members of the former administration. But when it comes to historical preservation, the content of the tweets does not really matter, says Ashley Nelson, a professor of social media communications at Tulane University in New Orleans.

"Trump uses social media to call out, put pressure on, or bring attention to an issue or those who disagree and oppose him," Ms. Nelson tells the Monitor. "Is this right or wrong?  Depends.... If you dislike Trump you will hate every word he types, and if you like Trump, you will agree with every character and emoji he uses."

Accuracy aside, Trump's informal and off-the-cuff tweeting style has helped him draw a large, loyal following, says Nelson.

"His followers can read what he wants them to know coming straight from his brain through his fingertips and onto a screen," she says. 

And that is a new kind of communication for a US president.

Traditionally, the president speaks to voters through prepared speeches and official channels of communication through proxies, maintaining several insulating layers between the public and the commander-in-chief. For many, Trump's Twitter account removes those layers to reveal what appears to be a real person on the other side of the screen.

"From a historical perspective, the fact that Mr. Trump's tweets don't accord with traditional political behavior renders them more important," says Pasek. "Without them, we may fail to gain an effective understanding of how key policies in the Trump presidency were communicated to the public."

Preserving that communication, of course, could potentially hold great historical importance. But for NARA, hanging onto records is about more than simply preserving history.

"Records help us claim our rights and entitlements, hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and document our history as a nation," reads a description of NARA on the organization's website. "In short, NARA ensures continuing access to the essential documentation of the rights of American citizens and the actions of their Government."

Senators McCaskill and Carper reflected NARA's concerns about accountability in voicing their concerns about the Trump administration altering or deleting tweets. In addition to these inquiries, the lawmakers also asked about reports that some White House staffers had been ordered to conduct electronic communication with apps other than email that didn't preserve records that could be leaked to the media.

Ferriero responded to the senators in a letter dated March 30 that he was unaware of any such orders, and that the use of record-deleting apps were forbidden at the White House.

The hubbub over Trump's tweets is only the latest challenge posed by the internet to government archivists over the past several years. The decreasing importance of physical copies of documents and communications means that NARA has had to re-strategize and embrace nontraditional forms of media in order to stay up-to-date in the digital world, a massive logistical and technological shift that is far from over.

"As with all new technologies, government needs to figure out ways to collect, monitor, and preserve it," says Nelson. "When email was introduced in the '90s, the task was trying to preserve it for the future record. Today, social media accounts and messaging are coming under the same scrutiny."

This article contains material from the Associated Press.

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