The typical tweet goes like this: “Soviet bombers are attacking Finnish town of Sortavala, near Mannerheim Line- centre ablaze, at least 20 civilians dead.” Reading through the tweets, it struck me how odd it is that things posted in 140 characters or less have come to seem more authentic and interesting than a conventional historical narrative. At least I’m assuming that’s the case: This feed — a staccato chronicle of events that happened more than 70 years ago — now has more than 200,000 followers. (Although I should also note that Lady Gaga has 18 million and noted historian Justin Bieber has 17 million.)
I like to imagine how Twitter might have been used if it had been available during World War II. Call me a cynic, but it seems likely that Joseph Goebbels would have quickly found ways to wield Twitter in service of the Reich. Stalin’s GRU would have found it useful too. Instead of the mostly accurate chronological narrative envisioned by @RealTimeWWII, we’d be left with a hodgepodge of contradictory observations, all highly suspect and impossible to verify. You can’t beat Twitter for immediacy, but in dramatic times it just ain’t that reliable. That’s why @RealTimeWWII is founded on the painstaking work of serious historians.
Still, history in small snippets is better than no history at all. I think it’s an interesting and educational project. I do hope it doesn’t promote the idea of Twitter as a medium of record.