Saving your Social Media

June 24th, 2020 By Valerie Love
Our personal digital files are inherently interesting to future generations but are also transitory and subject to the whims of corporations. Find out about what and how you can download your information from some of the common digital platforms.

This is 2020

While every year has historic events and defining moments, it feels like 2020 has seen more than its fair share in just the first six months alone. From the Australian bushfires, to the global Covid-19 pandemic, to the fight for racial justice in the United States and solidarity movements around the world, New Zealanders have been experiencing and responding to the global events of 2020 in myriad ways.

An image on Facebook showing a tree under a hazy sky.
Facebook post by Valerie Love "New Years Day 2020 in Pounawea, with weird smoky sky from the Australian bush fires. My camera kept trying to autocorrect the colour, so this is as close as I could get to what it looked like."

Digital worlds are inter-connected

In our digital worlds, we are all inter-connected. Much of the experience of 2020 has been documented online via social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In recent years, we’ve seen how global social media advocacy campaigns, like #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and #ArmsDownNZ are creating tangible change in our society. People across New Zealand use social media to document the moment, posting photographs from their daily lives, creating videos during noho rāhui/lockdown, and sharing vital information from doctors and experts on how to stay safe.

Social media also helped us to connect and understand how the events of 2020 have impacted different communities within Aotearoa whose experiences may not have matched mainstream lockdown narratives.

The multiplicity of stories and perspectives from this time will hopefully help future generations understand 2020, and see our triumphs, understand our fears, and pay tribute to the lives we’ve lost. Our deepest hope as archivists is that the materials gathered from this time will help people learn from the things we got right, and the mistakes we made along the way, as events continue to unfold around the world.

Preserving digital experiences for future generations

But with so many of these experiences being recorded and captured digitally, there is a risk that they may not last after all. The world moves fast online, and information comes and goes. Posting content online doesn’t mean that it is actually preserved. Digital files are inherently fragile, constantly changing, dependent on other technology and people to maintain them.

Just because Twitter and Facebook exist today, doesn’t mean they’ll always be around, or manage content in the same way going forward. Bebo, Old Friends, Friendster, Vine, and dozens of other platforms where people previously shared and saved content are no longer in existence. Therefore, it’s important to understand and document your digital files, keep track of where you store them, how they are organised, and ensure that they are regularly checked and backed up if you want to preserve them over time.

Although the Library holds millions of digital files in our collections (including a digital archive of the Old Friends website), the vast majority of digital files created in Aotearoa will be maintained over time by those who created them, rather than by a library or archive. So if it’s important to you and your whānau that your stories from this time are preserved and available into the future, here are some steps you can take now to take care of your digital legacy.

How to take care of your digital legacy

With the passage of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe in 2018, tech companies began to improve the processes for individuals to access their personal data. These processes do change from time to time, so check the platform’s help for the latest information and instructions.

With any platform, it is good practice to check your data regularly, and see what personal information about you is being stored. If your social media archives are important to you as a record of your life, perhaps set up a regular schedule for downloading them every six months or once a year.

The platforms — what you can download

Below is information about how to download your stories from a number of digital platforms to ensure they are preserved and available to you and your whānau. They are listed in alphabetical order.

Facebook

Facebook allows you to download your account archive as a zip file in either JSON or HTML format. JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) format is machine-readable and allows it to be more easily processed or uploaded to another system. Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) is machine-readable as well, but offers a more user-friendly data structure, including an index.html file, which allows you to look through your archive using a web browser.

Facebook also offers the option of choosing the media quality of the download – for archival purposes, select “High.” This means the download may take longer, but your images and videos will be better quality. You can choose exactly what information you’d like to include or exclude from the download, such as messages, activity in groups, and more.

Facebook archive file structure showing folders for comments, likes/reactions, photos/videos, posts and profile information.
Screenshot of Facebook Archive data. This is quite a simple one where just a small amount of the available data has been downloaded.

If you manage a Facebook Page, you can download that as well. However, Facebook doesn’t offer the ability to download the archive of a Facebook Group. Any posts that you have made to a Group will be part of your own archive, but it’s not currently possible to download the Group archive as a whole. So if you have a community group with photographs or other materials that you wish to preserve, you may need to use other web archiving tools.

Accessing and downloading your data on Facebook

Flickr

Flickr offers several options for downloading your data and photographs. You can download either your entire camera roll as a zip file, or select individual albums to download, which will maintain the photo’s database number and photo name and EXIF metadata.

Alternately, you can request your full Flickr data, which will supply zip files with your photographs and videos at full resolution, as well as JSON metadata files with your account information.

Google Takeout (YouTube, Gmail, Hangouts, Blogger, Google Photos and more)

Google products, such as YouTube, Gmail, Hangouts, Blogger, Google Drive, Google Photos, Google Maps locations, Google+ and other products, can be downloaded via the Google Takeout service. If you have an email account that you care about, it is a good idea to regularly download an archive of your account as either a .PST or .MBOX file.

To access Google Takeout, simply go to your Google Account settings and click Data & Personalization. Scroll down to the "Download your data" link, then select the data you’d like to download. Unlike most archives which limit the frequency of your downloads, you can set up a one-time archive, or have Google schedule regular data exports for you.

The Google Takeout interface showing Blogger and Calendar data selected.
Some of the data you can download through the Google Takeout interface.

Instagram

The process for downloading your Instagram data is similar to that of its parent company, Facebook; however, unlike downloading your Facebook data, Instagram data is provided in a standard way without any options to choose from.

The Instagram archive is provided in JSON format, and includes posted videos, photos comments, likes, searches, messages and more. The Instagram download option is available under Privacy and Security, and you can either view your data, or request a download to be emailed to you.

Pinterest

Unfortunately, Pinterest doesn’t offer a way of downloading your boards. However, if you are mainly interested in having a visual representation of your boards, you can use a tool like Conifer (previously Webrecorder.io) to create a web archive.

If your board is small, you can use your browser’s “Save as” functionality to save a copy of the webpage as a complete html object, which will save a visual representation of the site, as well as create a folder of images. However, the pins on Pinterest boards load as you scroll, and your browser’s web archive tool will only save the content that’s currently loaded on the page. To archive a Pinterest board with a lot of pins, you may need to scroll down and “Save as” multiple times.

Reddit

Reddit doesn’t have a download function to access your data as a whole, but there are a series of links in their help section where you can access various types of data, such as posts you’ve made, and communities you moderate.

To have a copy of your full data, you need to fill out a data request form, though it may take up to 30 days for Reddit to prepare your data.

Snapchat

Snapchat is designed to be ephemeral, where the images shared disappear after 24 hours, so if you haven’t opted to save them at the time of sharing your snap, you can’t actually get them back. But you can download your account info, your profile, public Snapchat stories you’ve contributed to, and your Snapchat history, which lists to whom and when you sent snaps.

How to save Snapchat videos

TikTok

TikTok, the second most downloaded app in 2019, is known for making it easy to download and save other users’ videos. Unfortunately it doesn’t offer the same ability to download your own archive. Currently the app doesn’t provide a way for users to automatically request or download their data.

If you use TikTok and value the content that you post there, make sure that you have backup copies of your videos saved somewhere else as well.

Twitch

Twitch offers users the option of automatically storing their content at the time of posting, but depending on your account time, this storage may be for as short as 14 days for a basic user, or 60 days for prime users.

Again, the best option is to make sure that you have saved a backup copy of your videos, or download them from Twitch on a regular basis.

Twitter

Twitter allows you to download your complete account archive. If your Twitter account is connected to a Periscope account, you can download that data too. The file downloads as a zip file containing various folders of data, including a tweets.csv file that contains all of your tweet text and metadata formatted into a spreadsheet.

The Twitter download also includes an index.html file that allows you to browse tweets by month using a basic web interface. The download includes account information formatted into JSON, and includes downloads of images and other media posted to the account.

How to download your Twitter archive

Vimeo

With Vimeo, you can download your videos individually, but there’s not an easy way to download an entire channel at once, unless you make use of scripting tools (see here for an example). Paid members do have the ability to store their original, unencoded source files on Vimeo as file storage.

WhatsApp

Also owned by Facebook, WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in the world, with over 2 billion users. Users can request their data in the Settings menu, which includes settings, profile information, and group names. However, be aware that requesting your data doesn’t actually export your chat history.

The New Zealand Government's WhatsApp channel for Covid-19 showing their guidelines for alert level 4, "Kia ora, and welcome to the NZ Government WhatsApp channel".
Screenshot from the NZ Government Covid-19 WhatsApp channel.

The export process varies slightly depending on whether you have an iPhone or Android device, but you’ll need to export chats transcripts individually, rather than as a set. More detailed instructions are available at the WhatsApp FAQ page, but essentially, you select the chat you want to export and it generates a zip archive, and prompts you to choose a method of sending it to yourself.

The zip file contains a text file with the chat transcript, and any images or media files if you’ve selected to include those. However, when I tried to send my WhatsApp zip archive to myself via the mail app on my phone, I got an error message that the zip file was blocked by Gmail, so I had to send it to my computer via AirDrop instead.

Preserving digital photographs

The Alexander Turnbull Library holds an extensive photographic collection that documents everyday life and events in Aotearoa over the years, as well as social movements and protests.

Two people standing on the green grass of Parliament grounds holding a large colourful sign that reads: Celebrate Diversity .
Photographs of National Front and anti-racism demonstrations, Wellington, taken by Dylan Owen, 23 October 2004. Ref: PADL-000074.

Within my own social media bubble, I’ve noticed a surge of people taking photographs at events, and posting them to Facebook groups or on Twitter, as a way of making them publicly available. This can be a highly effective way of amplifying the reach of content. However, most platforms compress image files, so what’s actually posted online and what you can get back from the platform by requesting your data may be lower quality than the original files.

The other downside of using social media as a defacto archive is that people can often download and repurpose those images in ways the photographer may not have originally intended, or overwhelm posters with comments (both positive and negative) when an image goes viral.

Depositing contemporary digital materials in a library or archive where they can be catalogued with copyright information and explicit statements guiding use and reuse can help to protect material from misuse.

Donating your digital story to a collecting institution

A number of institutions across Aotearoa are actively collecting material relating to contemporary life, including Covid-19 and the noho rāhui/lockdown. Consider getting in touch with your local library, archive, or museum to find out more.

If you have taken photographs or created other contemporary materials that you feel have historic value for Aotearoa New Zealand, they may be in scope to be preserved in the Library’s National Digital Heritage Archive (NDHA). Contact us via Ask a Librarian for more information.

If you are considering donating photographic materials to an archive, do be sure to review your digital work beforehand and provide as much contextual information relating to the files as possible, such as:

  • who is in the photos
  • what they are of, and
  • where and when they were taken, for example, street names, suburb, and town.

Organising your photos

But regardless of whether you plan to deposit your materials in an archive, if you have a large number of photographs, you may wish to review your collection to remove any images and videos that you don’t wish to save, such as duplicates, blurry, or otherwise poor-quality photos.

A variety of photo organising tools are available to help you manage your digital photographs. Remember that digital photographs and videos can take up large amounts of storage space, which in turn requires electricity and other resources in order to access and preserve. So decreasing your digital footprint helps keep the number of digital files in your care manageable, as well as supporting environmental sustainability. But do make sure that materials you care about are backed up – significant digital content should never exist in just one place!

Read more about concrete steps you can take to manage your personal digital archive.

So you’ve downloaded your social media data — now what?

Now that you’ve downloaded your social media archives, designate a secure place to save them. This might be in a folder on your computer or in the cloud, with backup copies on a USB stick, for example. The zip file downloads will often be labelled just with a series of numbers and letters, so do make sure to give them meaningful names, such as Your_Name_Instagram_archive_June_2020.

As part of the Alexander Turnbull Library’s centenary celebrations last year, the Library launched a Facebook archiving project, inviting New Zealanders to download a copy of their Facebook account archives in order to document their daily lives today to support the emerging and anticipated research needs of the future.

We are still accepting submissions to this project, so if you’d like to participate you can read more about the Facebook archiving project here. Just as friends and family are interested in seeing your posts on social media today, know that they hold value for future generations too.

Feel free to contact us at Ask a Librarian for more information.

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chris
25 June 2020 2:23pm

Brilliant work Val. Helpful and informative. Everyone who has a piece of social media real estate has the opportunity to be their own personal social media archivist and ensure their views and thoughts are accurately portrayed and preserved. Individual voices matter, now and tomorrow.