A couple of months ago, I was quite green in the rudimentary understanding of how digital tools are used to amplify topics in public history. Out of all the many benefits that come with digital tools, such as accessibility and interaction, web archiving was not in my consideration. Additionally, I was naive in the understanding that web archiving can be used to promote community, engagement, and advocacy. Digital tools like, DocNow, Social Feed Manager, TWARC, and Archive-it are using web archiving to illustrate the historical significance in social media content as a force in social change. In Beyond the Hashtags: #Ferguson, #BlackLivesMatter, and online struggle for social injustice , Deen Freelon, Charlton D. McIlwain, and Meredith D. Clark share conclusions from their study of hashtags as a field site for tracking the impact of social media activism. This report along with #Ferguson: Digital protest, hashtag ethnography, and the racial politics of social media in the United States are the inspiration for my project. As these reports used web archiving to illustrate the historical significance and social impact of #BlackLivesMatter social media protests, my project is an attempt to add to that more depth to that conclusion. The focus of much web archive collections and research for Black Lives Matter (BLM) is the movement’s principles: restorative justice unapologetically Black, Black women, and collective value. These collections mainly target social media activity regarding police brutality and justice reform. Understandably, considering the movement reached “recognition” and made history for organizing protests around the murders of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Freddie Grey, Sandra Bland, and many others who lost their lives to police brutality. However, there are several other principles that the Black Lives Matter movement embodies. BLM ignited social media activism around the collective value of Black lives, including undocumented, transgender, queer, and impoverished Black lives. As there are many collections archiving the protests surrounding police brutality, I felt the advocacy for the collective value of Black lives should also be recorded. This project was conceived to draw attention to the advocacy of the collective from BLM and other related movements.
Finding the Right Digital Tool:
Out of the plethora of web archiving applications and software that target collecting social media engagement and activism, I needed to find the right one that provided accessibility and did not require a master knowledge of coding. I thought the collection of social media activism should be easy to obtain and open for public contribution. Another factor I needed to consider was the type of application or software and the best approach. Should this collection live on a social media API software or web archives? I found Justin Littman’s article, Web archiving and/or/vs social media API archiving , a valuable resource is deciding the between which application or software to use for my project. Littman really breaks down the significant differences between APIs and Web archives. Each approach carries its own pros and cons; however, for my current level of proficiency, it became clear that APIs draw too many complications. In the long run, APIs are ideal to capture to the more social media metadata and hashtags, but it requires more technique that is beyond my comprehension. There was an API that I began to use in the early stages of this project but then ran into complications. DocNow, a social media appraisal tool co-created by DocNow founders and Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), allows users to log in their twitter account and track content using hashtags and location pins.
When searching for a hashtag, you can view all the images, tweets, videos, every mention located on twitter. Pretty useful, right? However, is this accessible for others to use and add content? Not really. To my knowledge, the collection is not available for other users to contribute and the Twitter API limits the timeline a user can explore the app for hashtag mentions. This digital tool is still a work in progress so the complications I faced using this tool, might be resolved at a later date. In the meantime, I decided to look experiment a web archive a well-known tool, Webrecorder.
Webrecorder is a web archiving service that allows users to capture content from any web page and automatically save it to a collection. These collections can be marked public or private by organizer. Also, I found no limits to the timeline I could record information. I simply logged into my twitter account, searched for #BlackTransLivesMatter, clicked the “Capture” icon, and began recording every tweet that appeared in my search history. Unlike DocNow which only allowed me to search hashtags in 7-day intervals, Webrecorder allowed me to view social media content tracing back to August 23, 2013. At the moment, Webrecorder appears to be the best digital tool to use for this project. However, I am still investigating other digital tools that could be more useful for the purpose.
Creating a collection of this magnitude will take more time than allocated in a spring semester and I aim to continue this work well after the term has ended. There are other factors to creating a comprehensive collection of social media activism surrounding the collective value of Black lives that I was unable to perform in the early stages. First, I believe some level of collaboration and interviews from activists and members in each community are essential. Black queer, Black transgender, Black undocumented, and many others in the collective should have agency in the narrative this archive is reporting. It’s one thing to record, what’s out there in the social media realm, but it’s another thing entirely to provide essential context to the content being shared. Through further research and analysis, this web archive collection of the collective value of Black lives can be immensely useful in sharing the historical significance of social media activism.