Bergis Jules (UC Riverside) recently published “Some Thoughts on Ethics and DocNow” on Medium. Jules’ piece focuses on the ethics of collecting social media archives, prompted by his work on the DocNow project, which “responds to public’s use of social media for chronicling historically significant events, as well as demand from scholars, students, and archivists, among others, seeking a user-friendly means of collecting and preserving this type of digital content.”
The ethical considerations around social media archives are riddled with technical, theoretical, and practical complications, and the best way to tackle them is not to ignore the issues and take a “collect it all” approach, as some are advocating, but to address them head on and develop concrete solutions where possible or guidelines, best practices, and even a set of values where you can’t find solutions. One way I’ve been trying to think through some of these issues recently has been to consider the practices we’ve developed as archivists to address appraisal, ethics, privacy, etc, when working with donors of physical collections, and to imagine how those could transfer to social media archives.
Can some of these practices be transferred and used in the same way or will we have to rethink them a bit? For example, archivists mostly build collections for the long term. We want people to be able to find these archives ten, twenty, or thirty years from now, and our practices are developed with those considerations in mind. Can these same practices apply when addressing ethical issues for long term preservation of social media archives, especially considering that user consent to collect this type of data is a major ethical concern. I think there are some well developed practices we can explore that might help us think through this critical conversation.
Considering some of the possibilities and limitations of applying archival gift protocol to users of social media, Jules concludes with a question: “How else can you see the deed of gift or other traditional tools or practices of archivists transferring to social media archives considering the unique challenges and opportunities these records pose?” Responses to this question are invited in the DocNow Slack channel or as comments on the Medium post.