Twitter has been one of the defining revolutions of the Internet age since its launch six years ago, in March 2006. Not only are individuals and corporations alike taking advantage of its services, but it seems that scholars are as well, as highlighted by the Modern Language Association’s announcement of an official MLA citation guide for Tweets last Friday.
While the thought of such a concept may have seemed bizarre only a few years ago, it’s a realistic approach in today’s world. Twitter has quickly become one of the most up-to-date news sources, with many announcements going to Twitter before anywhere else. After all, a 140-character tweet is much easier and faster to send than a 500-word article covering the event. As such, celebrities and news sources are turning to tweets to get their message out first, and fast. Live events are also much more easily communicated through tweets for the same reasons: speed and precision.
The following directions were given by the MLA for citing tweets in their format:
Begin the entry in the works-cited list with the author’s real name and, in parentheses, user name, if both are known and they differ. If only the user name is known, give it alone.
Next provide the entire text of the tweet in quotation marks, without changing the capitalization. Conclude the entry with the date and time of the message and the medium of publication (Tweet). For example:
Athar, Sohaib (ReallyVirtual). “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).” 1 May 2011, 3:58 p.m. Tweet.
The date and time of a message on Twitter reflect the reader’s time zone. Readers in different time zones see different times and, possibly, dates on the same tweet. The date and time that were in effect for the writer of the tweet when it was transmitted are normally not known. Thus, the date and time displayed on Twitter are only approximate guides to the timing of a tweet. However, they allow a researcher to precisely compare the timing of tweets as long as the tweets are all read in a single time zone.
In the main text of the paper, a tweet is cited in its entirety (7.4.1):
Sohaib Athar noted that the presence of a helicopter at that hour was “a rare event.”
The presence of a helicopter at that hour was “a rare event” (Athar).
While it’s certainly a fine example of how social media is becoming a more important and critical aspect of daily life, it’s unsure what developments will appear in the future. MLA is only one type of citation; will formats such as APA have their own Twitter adaption before too long? Only time can truly tell, but its certain that social media has only just begun to enter our lives.