Digital Project Draft: Web archiving Social Media Activism Focusing on the Collective Value of Black Lives

Background:

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.

Next Steps:

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.

Invisible Australians

In the early twentieth century, Australia wanted to be identified as, “the white man’s country”. This pursuit involved many racist tactics and propaganda erasing those identified as “non-white” from the country’s narrative. The Australian government incorporated large-scale oppressive policies on Non-European immigrants and Indigenous Australians that monitored their every move. The Invisible Australians project was created to give a voice to the many Australians that faced these discriminatory laws and policies that denied them the full liberties and rights of their white Australian counterparts.

The project uses the same documentation that was once used to surveillance the lives of immigrants and indigenous Australians, to share their stories. Using facial detection software, Tim Sherratt and Kate Bagnall extracted thousands of portraits from Certificates of Exemption from the Dictation Test, Certificates of Domicile and other associated forms (CEDT) all found on the National Archives of Australia’s RecordSearch database. Sherratt shares in  the real face of white australia the strenuous job of checking each portrait and removing duplicates. However, since the face detection extracted from a wide range of government documents and the Australian government kept several copies of the forms, many duplicates are still on the website. ( In my own search, I found three duplicates within ten minutes of browsing portraits)

There are a few other things I noticed while perusing the site to learn more about these amazing people. First, the site consists of predominately male portraits. There are women and children also present in the gallery, but very few compared to the plethora of male faces. Second, there is no particular order of the portraits. Not sure what was the intent of having the images randomized. Furthermore, I’m very interested in understanding why Sherratt and Bagnall chose to only focus on documents approved by Collectors of Customs? The overview of this project speaks on the discriminatory policies placed on Indigenous Australians, not just non-European immigrants. Still, the only records used for this project are from ST84/1, a series of immigration-related travel approvals. Lastly, the site may not provide user-generated contributions, but the overview does provide fun instructions on different ways to navigate through the gallery of portraits. “Reverse the order simply by adding‘?order=reverse’ to the url. You can also browse file by file by adding ‘?order=file’ I attempted both instructions and could not tell the significance of modifying my url. The order still appeared random and in no particular order.

Invisible Australians is a captivating project. Using the very documents that once restricted people of their liberties, is now the very tool to share their stories. It’s important to note that Sherratt states this project is, “ not an exhibit, it’s a finding aid.” The portraits are used to reel the user into wanting to learn more about these people. Each portrait is a small glimpse into the unnecessary monitoring many people had to endure under the Australian government’s authority.

Changes Over Time- Defining Tagokor and Analog

Since the 1970s, the definition analog or analogue developed out of interests in digital technology instead of the actual engineering itself. It’s grown to refer to a condition based on the cultural reaction to digital technologies rather than its technocultural relationship to nature. This, in turn, has resulted in a popular novel concept that analog is everything not digital. Jonathon Sterne, an expert in media and cultural studies, reveals why branding analog to compose of all things not-digital is a dangerous road to trot.

Broadening the reach of what falls under analog prevents proper attention going into the various histories and purposes involved. Just discussing an analog-digital relationship without breaking down the influential histories does not illustrate how the definition of that relationship was formed. How the term analog changes over time are very similar to TAGOKOR’s journey to NARA.

Though TAGOKOR’s histories may slightly differ from defining objects as analog or digital, the influence of periodic variables matters in shaping purpose. Sterne and Bailey illustrate in their work how cultural conditions and histories mold how digital objects are defined and why it matters. Why should we care what is considered a digital system and if the definition evolves over time due to more progressive forms of information sharing and preservation?

Although Sterne offers more word of caution in his article, it’s safe to say Bailey’s study of the custodial and cultural histories of TAGOKOR is also a warning to the readers. His attention to the many agencies and transfers of TAGOKOR draws attention to the stages and reconstituting of records before they are made available to the public. By the time the records are published, they are so far removed from the original piece due to so many interferences and set purposes. Eventually, there are two histories of the digital records, “elision and elaboration- a history separate from the literal preservation of the bit sequence itself.” Whether it’s the crowded process of publishing digital record systems from the Korean war or establishing what is considered analog, it’s apparent that there are several factors in play that determine what defines their history.

Soundcloud: A Place Where All Can Listen, Curate and Create

In 2007, Soundcloud was released and changed the streaming industry forever. This online audio streaming platform allowed an open space for user-generated content and engagement.  It became a community where musicians, journalists, scholars, entertainers, archivists, enthusiasts, and the general public can connect. The Soundcloud team prides itself in designing a space for people to listen, create and curate for all the site’s users.  For many years, I used this platform solely to listen to and curate audio streams. Since 2014, I have commuted a long distance for multiple jobs. Traveling by car, train, and metro, I could always count on at least an hour commute one way which left much time to kill.  Instead of traveling in idle mind and in complete silence, I used Soundcloud to catch up on the latest news story, podcasts or musical tracks. I’m one of the millions worldwide who use Soundcloud just to listen and discover new content, but what about the creators ?  In order for me to enjoy audio streams during long commutes, there has to be a creator with an idea and content to upload for specific audiences in mind right?  

Since this role on Soundcloud was foreign to me all these years, I figured what better time than the present to learn how to be a creator on one of the world’s largest audio streaming platforms.  As a public historian, Soundcloud can be a very useful tool for making history relevant to a plethora of audiences around the world. For this reason, let’s dive into the tips and tricks to being a creator on Soundcloud.

First things first, one needs to create an account in order to reap any of the platform’s benefits.  To use an account with the intention of distributing content and promoting a brand, creators must choose wisely what type of account they want to manage.  There are five different account types to choose from: Basics, Pro, Pro Unlimited, Go, and Go+. The Soundcloud team recommends Pro Unlimited for all creators and refers to a comprehensive user guide on how to manage this account type and others offered on the audio streaming platform.  This account type costs the user $12 per month when billed yearly and $16 per month when billed monthly. Users pay for an extensive package of tools and unlimited upload time which is ideal for creators. However, if you wish to be a creator using the Basic account type, be prepared to face some challenges that could impact your success on the platform.  Users with a Basic account are limited to only three hours of upload time. Yes, just three hours. It makes sense the Soundcloud team recommends a Pro Unlimited account because only three hours of upload time is not very helpful for creators in the slightest.

In the Soundcloud Creator Guide , users learn about the fundamentals for designing an account, choosing the right account type to optimize a creator’s experience, how to upload audio content, finding the right audience, and receiving revenue from streams.

Uploading content is a pretty straightforward process. A user can upload audio content on various multimedia devices.  Whether your Team Apple or Team Android, Soundcloud is available on all popular smartphones. Uploading via computer is no hassle either.  Users can manage their accounts and uploads on either a PC or Mac.

For creators, Soundcloud provides the space for users to upload content to help build their brand with the opportunity of receiving compensation for their work.  Through the Soundcloud Premier program, users can get paid based on plays in audio streams.  Monetizing streams comes with the Pro and Pro Unlimited accounts, one of many benefits to letting go of the Basic option and upgrading to the accounts that require payment.

Soundcloud is a groundbreaking platform for audio streaming that continues to provide accessibility, engagement, and reward for users around the world. A musician can upload tracks, promote their brand, get paid for their popularity and eventually get discovered by big deal producers in the music industry.  Historians and other scholars can connect with audiences through uploading history relevant audio content like interviews, speeches, podcasts, and more. No matter what one’s reason for using Soundcloud, listening, curating or creating, there are tools in place to make one’s experience optimal.

Digital Project Proposal: Web archiving Black queer and trans activism in BLM collections

In sticking with the theme of social media activism, my digital project is a fraternal twin to my print project proposed two weeks ago.  Through the tools and guidance provided by the DocNow team, I plan to create a collection of social media activism revolving around the protection of Black queer and transgender lives.

The defense of Black queer and trans people is an affirmation of the movement, #BlackLivesMatter (BLM).  The movement was founded as a call to action by three Black queer women who unapologetically use their platform to defend the lives of all Black groups, including those that are often dismissed by hetero-patriarchal Black liberation movements.  This includes protecting the quality of life for Black women, Black queers, Black trans, Black disabled, Black undocumented, Black wrongfully imprisoned, and Black people stricken by a system that binds them to poverty. The movement’s mission is not ambiguous.  The defense of Black queer and transgender people are not intentionally pushed aside for other causes. Yet, most discussion of archiving the social media presence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is centered on the impact of the Trayvon Martin murder and protest against police brutality.  

#Ferguson, #MichaelBrown, #TrayvonMarton, #FreddieGray, and other related hashtags centered on these cases are the most popular subjects of collections and datasets relating to #BlackLivesMatter.  It makes sense. It was the murder of Trayvon Martin that prompted the founders of BLM to start the hashtag, now movement. It was the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri that escalated the movement from a social media presence to protestors hitting the pavement in massive droves.  It was the murder of Freddie Gray that ignited the Baltimore Uprising. Millions participated in protests for these events both on social media and in the streets across the country. However, there is still a large presence of social media activism for Black queer and trans advocacy that is not receiving the same push for web archiving.  

It’s important to archive all of the affirmations and activism led by the Black Lives Matter movement.  Lack of web preservation for all the movement stands for will leave silences in the story that will prevent the very transformative social change the founders of BLM are pursuing.  It’s the mission of this project to resolve the missing pieces in the collections and datasets about the impact of the BlackLivesMatter movement. Web content related to #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackWomenMatter, #BlackTransLivesMatter, #BlackTransMatter, #YouOKSis, and other hashtags focused on Black queer and trans advocacy will be added to pre-existing BLM collections and datasets, like Archive-It’s #BlackLivesMatter Collection

The DocNow platform will aid in not just finding preexisting BLM collections and datasets, but advertising the need for black queer and trans content. Remembering Bassem Masri is a model of how I plan to publicize a call for help in web archiving this content for #BlackLivesMatter.  Using Medium/DocNow, this project will seek the attention of archivists, historians, scholars, activists, and the general public.  It is my hope that the project can use this platform to gain contributions and amplify a call to action for more web archiving on Black queer and trans activism.

To be completely transparent, there are still many steps to this project that need to be ironed out.  As a novice to digital preservation and illiterate in the language of coding, I plan to lean on the DocNow team’s expertise in assuring this project comes into fruition.  DocNow is a groundbreaking resource for web archiving significant social media content. I have full faith that the DocNow platform is the ideal space to ignite more web archiving efforts for Black queer and trans activism and all of BLM’s principles.