Is your Facebook account an archive of the future?

We've been collecting Aotearoa New Zealand social history for 100 years. It is one hundred years since Alexander Turnbull bequeathed his library and it was opened to the people of New Zealand. This anniversary has made the staff at the Alexander Turnbull Library reflective. We have been contemplating our history of collecting on behalf of New Zealanders, and what the next one hundred years of library and archival collecting might look like.

Over the next few months, we're inviting New Zealanders to donate their Facebook archives to the Alexander Turnbull Library. In collecting personal Facebook archives of New Zealanders here and abroad, we will be continuing the work that has always been part of our mission: documenting the lives of New Zealanders today to support the emerging and anticipated research needs of the future.

We hope to collect a representative sample of Facebook archives. We want to build a collection that future researchers may use to understand what we saved and how we used social media platforms like Facebook, but also to better understand the rich context of early 21st Century digital culture and life. In return for your donation, we can offer potential donors a trusted digital repository that is committed to preserving these digital archives into the future.

Facebook open on a computer.
Photo by Con Karampelas. Unsplash. License to use.

We will respect your privacy

We understand that these archives are very likely to have personal and private information, information that many prospective donors may be wary of making available to the public anytime soon. To account for this, we have three access and use options for this project. In none of these options would your Facebook archives be available online without restriction. Donors can choose to have their Facebook archives:

  1. Restricted and unavailable to researchers for one hundred years or
  2. Restricted and unavailable for researchers for twenty-five years after that, the content would be available for researchers onsite and only in the secure reading room, or
  3. Available to researchers but restricted to onsite only access in the secure reading room.

By giving donors these three options, we hope we've struck a balance between protecting donors'privacy, and supporting researcher needs now, one hundred years from now, and beyond. We want to ensure that we continue to offer donors a trusted and safe repository for their archives.

We also want to honour our donors' intention that by placing their archives with the Library, it is their desire to make these materials available to researchers now or in the future. It has been this generosity of spirit and forbearance that allowed the Alexander Turnbull Library to first exist, and then to continue to thrive.

Donate to the ATL 100 Facebook Archives Project

If you'd like to be part of this initiative and contribute to building a social media collection for future library users, more details are available here Facebook Archive Project.

We've also included instructions on how to download your personal Facebook archive below. Even if you decide not to donate your Facebook archive to the Alexander Turnbull Library, it's a useful exercise to download your own personal archive from Facebook.

This is content you've created and there may come a time when you want to save a copy outside Facebook's platform. You might find that all those photos you've posted, all the conversations and personal message have lasting value to you and your whānau. If that's the case, take a look at a recent blog The history of you and me about preserving and caring for your personal digital archives over time for advice on how to care for digital archives at home.

Download your Facebook archive

You can download a copy of your Facebook data by going to your account settings. There will be a link to download your Facebook information.

You can then select what information you would like to download, and choose whether to include (or not include) aspects of your Facebook information such as posts, photos and videos, comments, likes and reactions, profile information, events, messages, etc.

Facebook has instructions on how to download your Facebook information.

Why Facebook? Why now?

In December 2018 there were 2.32 billion active users of Facebook worldwide and 2.9 million in Aotearoa New Zealand. Facebook is used by people all over the world to connect with friends and family, to share information, and to discuss local, national, and world events. For many users, Facebook has become a memory site a place where folks share both the minutia of everyday life, but also its special moments and highlights. For many people around the country and the world, Facebook has become an online utility or platform not just for sharing memories, but for storing them as well.

And Facebook as a company is aware of the importance of the platform as a site for personal memories or a personal archive of our lives, offering the on this day feature which prompts users with memories of past posts to share.

It's this idea of Facebook as a version of an individual's personal (digital) archive that has long intrigued many of us in the Library who are working to preserve Aotearoa New Zealand's digital cultural heritage. To what extent do users see Facebook as a digital archive of their lives? And to what extent do we see the activity recorded on Facebook as important records of contemporary life? How we answer those questions on any given day has a direct impact on what the Library may decide to collect.

Power to shape perspectives

In the last few years, we've also learned that Facebook and other social media platforms aren't just neutral utilities or platforms, storing our past digital lives.  As we now know, these platforms also have the power to shape our perspectives, our thoughts, and our understanding of the world. And as the horror of the Christchurch Mosque Terror Attacks has shown, Facebook can be used to spread and broadcast misinformation and hate.

It's become increasingly clear that through their opaque algorithms, digital platforms like Google and Facebook can literally control the information we have access to. One of the ways they do this is by using our personal data and metadata, tracking who we are and what we think, based on what we share and where we go online. This ubiquitous digital surveillance has for a long time just been considered the price of using these open platforms, and in general, we believed openness was good, that our personal data was safe, and that we could trust these platforms to protect us.

 Life can move fast online

As the political landscape has shifted, and as platforms like Facebook have begun tightening up their data privacy policies, there is a good chance that digital life as we currently experience it might be changing soon. Life can move fast online and what is popular one decade can be obsolete the next without our even noticing. One of the things we do know is that while we all know how to put a lot of digital content onto social media platforms, sometimes getting that content out is more of a mystery.

In considering all this, we've concluded now is the time to capture a snapshot of what Aotearoa New Zealand digital life on Facebook looked like in 2019. We invite you to have a go at downloading your Facebook account, examining the kind of personal digital archives you might have, and consider donating to the ATL100 Facebook Archive Project.

We hope that you'll join us in helping to build a social media collection for future generations. More details, including the form to get started, can be found here Facebook Archive Project.

By Jessica Moran

Jessica Moran is the Digital Collection Services Team Leader at the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand.

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