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Social media debate testimony to “climate of change” for archives – #ICA_2012 (3)

This year’s Congress of the International Council on Archives (or ICA_2012, Brisbane) is entitled “A climate of change”. That is quite a broad motto, and it could easily just be a cliché without much meaning. So I was more than pleasantly surprised when the first keynote speaker, US archivist David Ferriero, took on the complicated issue of social media. – by Inge Angevaare

David Ferriero: “I expect my staff to anticipate what technology government is going to use.”

Ferriero had no doubts at all about whether archives should involve themselves with social media. Government officials have embraced the new technologies, as witnessed, a.o., by the Obama Administration, and thus, quite a few social media messages will become public records. In fact, Ferriero’s office issued guidance on when and why social media content would become public records:

  • “Is the information unique and not available anywhere else?
  • Does it contain evidence of an agency’s policies, business, mission, etc.?
  • Is this tool being used in relation to the agency’s work?
  • Is use of the tool authorized by the agency?
  • Is there a business need for the information?

If the answers to any of the above questions are yes, then the content is likely to be a Federal record.”

Ferriero indicated that 900 (!!) staff within his organization are involved in social media projects, but did not go into details as to what these projects are.

Some of the 1,000 delegates from 95 countries watching an aborigine dance during the opening ceremony.

Bungala (http://www.bungala.com.au/)

I could not help but think back to an interview I did some years ago with the Dutch national archivist. As late as 2009 he argued that websites were publications, and belonged in a library rather than an archive. Times are indeed changing!

ICA President Martin Berendse: “A climate of change — and I am glad of it.”

Later in the day, Günther Schefbeck of the Austrian parliamentary administration took a closer look at just what these social media are. His analysis of our newly evolved “network society” and the dynamics that are at play there may have been a bit theoretical for some of the audience, but his conclusion was unmistakable: content on social media is totally dependent upon but a few large “hubs” (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) If any of those goes out of business, all of the content is lost with them.

Günther Schefbeck referred to the EU ERCOMEM project which is to address some of the social media issues.

Is that something archives should worry about? Schefbeck readily admits that there is a lot of “Bored” and “Me too” content out there that really does not merit archiving. But, increasingly, important societal debates take place on social media which influence public decision-making. As such, Schefbeck argues that they should become part of the public record. But who is responsible for archiving such content? Archives and libraries keep discussing the issue amongst themselves, Schefbeck stated, but so far, nothing happens. Schefbeck: “We must discuss this issue seriously, and we must discuss it soon.” Because if we wait too long, the content may be lost forever.

A captive audience for Günther Schefbeck

Now this is just the type of debate that my own organization, the inter-sectoral Netherlands Coalition for Digital Preservation, might facilitate. But in my experience the likely custodians of social media content are reticent to get involved. And who could blame them. Shefbeck listed the many technical and legal obstacles that need to be solved (check out his paper, link to follow soon).

However, when you look at preservation from the point of risk, this is the type of content we should be putting our money to. Most of the paper records we are presently digitizing will easily keep for a few more decades. But then again, the issue of social media is so much more complicated.

That’s all for now. There is, as usual, more to tell, but that must wait. To be continued!

Brisbane Central Business District