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Web Archiving When Online Content Has an Expiration Date


It is a foundational truth of archiving that records and other data are not permanent. If they were, there would be no need for archives. This is as true today as it was in 1915, particularly when it comes to web archiving. The advent of the information age and its attendant vast capacity for data storage has not automatically preserved the integrity of online records.

archiving_expired_contentHigh-profile entrepreneur Mark Cuban, though, is very concerned about what he describes as the dangers of data that “lives forever.”

Cuban recently told Inc. magazine that he believes social media, text messaging and other high-tech communications tools will soon enable the aggregation of comprehensive “psychological profiles” that will grow beyond today’s targeted Internet marketing uses.

“It’s going to put Minority Report and other movies about the future to shame,” Cuban says. “Once you send that [information], you give up ownership. You have no control.”

Cuban believes technology that restores a measure of control to social media users is on the way, and he has launched two startup companies that he hopes will be at the vanguard of that trend.

Preservation-minded archivists are not, of course, seeking to create Minority Report-style profiles of the people whose social media content they collect. If it comes to pass, however, Cuban’s prediction would have a number of ramifications for archivists whose target material includes social media accounts of elected officials and other public figures.

Social media content with an explicit expiration date would put additional pressure on archivists to ensure that they are crawling the content on a schedule that ensures that the information is collected before its planned removal. A post articulating a policy position, for example, might remain on a state legislator’s social media channel indefinitely today, but in the future, that post (and any ensuing discussion it prompts) could be scheduled for removal after the issue comes up for a vote.

An archival routine that is set to crawl that social media account’s public content on an annual or even monthly basis could potentially lose that material. Of additional concern for archivists working with “expiring content” is the potential for conflict that may arise when an archive’s mandate or mission clashes with the wishes and intentions of the archived content’s creator.

Whether or not one believes Cuban’s predictions, it seems likely that the landscape of social media content with regards to privacy, permanence and ultimate ownership of data will continue to evolve rapidly in coming years. Archivists working in the public sphere may soon find themselves affected by expiration-dated content, prompting a need to better archive social media content.


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