Ethics and Archiving the Web

A couple of months ago, I got an email asking me if I’d be on a panel at an upcoming conference held at the New Museum, “Ethics and Archiving the Web.” What an honor! And this past weekend, the conference took place. I’ve been feeling a little bit burned out by conferences over the past year or so, primarily because I felt tired of like-minded people telling each other what they should be doing, while the audience nods along, reinforcing their ideas but essentially just only speaking to each other. I feel this way outside of conferences too.

But EAW18 really shook those feelings up and away for me. The conference was so strongly interdisciplinary and I felt like every person at the conference came at web archiving from a completely unique perspective. It’s not like there was a lack of that like-mindedness echo chamber that I have been finding so banal, but that existed only in things that really should exist everywhere all the time: in shared core values of respect, empathy, and an immersive kindness and respect for the work, each other, and others. I was continually blown away by talks and thoughts coming in and the in-between conversations with people I already know, people I only know from the internet, and new pals!

Some highlights:

The Internet of Affects: Haunting Down Data
Marisa Parham’s keynote wonderfully set the tone for the conference that was yet to come. The phrase that particularly struck me was that of “ethical de-coding” when dealing with social media archives for cultures that are not the oppressive dominant, and how to respectfully handle this as an archivist. Her talk also had me considering how preserving social media as being more analogous to the preservation of performance than I had thought it previously. Thinking of social media decidedly not as a text.

Dr. Safiya Noble’s Algorithms of Oppression
My hopes were high for this evening keynote, having just finished the text from which Dr. Noble was speaking from. Much of the content of the talk was something I had just read, but I was really blown away by how warm, how bright, how smart, and how kind but seriously pressing for the change and work that we all need to actively be doing. I could have listened to a Q&A with her for the entire day. As I said on Twitter, I was absolutely frozen in place by her telling students that want a “hard problem” that they should consider designing a laptop that can be created without someone dying, without killing someone, without permanently damaging human bodies through manufacturing or mineral mining. Just utterly and succinctly tying all of these things we take for granted back to the real human cost of capitalism.

Windows and Mirrors
Lozana Rossenova spoke about digital archives in this dichotomy of “Window or Mirror?” I think this is just a really brilliant way of thinking about websites in general. Is it a direct view into the content, or a reflection back at yourself? I am looking forward to watching this talk again (because I was beginning to reach an information-overload state!).

Attacking the Wayback Machine
Love loved Dr Ada Lerner’s presentation on their research on potential malicious attacks on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, available fully here and very highly recommended. They followed good security compromise practices (as addressed in a follow-up question after our panel) and made these vulnerabilities aware to the Internet Archive team and had been all patched prior to publication.

Building a Community Archive of Police Violence
Apperciated the format and also loved the casual conversation between Jarrett Drake and Stacie Williams on working through issues building up a community archive from the ground up, what they learned, and exposing all that the archives field desperately needs to be learning from them.

Workshops and Ethics
As I made my way towards this final day of the conference, dedicated to hands-on workshops, I saw so many families with protest signs headed to to a local NYC March for our Lives event, which really reinforced in me the importance of the words I heard the night before from Madonna Thunder Hawk and Marcella Gilbert, water protectors from Standing Rock, and notably the message of “You shouldn’t be doing work that isn’t going back into transformative community spaces.” I was galvanized to continue the work that I do, to enrich my skillset, and to work towards improving the world through ways in which I am equipped. So it was fortuitous that the first workshop of the day (for me) was on open source forensics, and talking through tools used to build cases against real human rights violations and the open source software that helps with this work, like sugarcube. Then I moved to a sneak peek of the upcoming new features in WebRecorder which led into some good conversations about ethical issues and how to design with ethics in mind. Which then led into an entire workshop dedicated to ethical design. This workshop was really great and reinforced how badly the libraries and archives field needs to hire designers and UX/UI specialists and empower them (and everyone on every team) to consider and create systems that work for everybody, to believe that this work is real and important, and to take it seriously.

This conference was so thoughtful and so delightful in so many ways, and like the just-mentioned work of design, this takes real care and effort. And much like infrastructure, it becomes invisible when done properly, when planned, and when done well, to the point where it seems efficient, effortless, and able to then be taken for granted. This is what “diversity & inclusion” looks like in practice and not just when used as a buzzword. I want to acknowledge and loudly appreciate the work of the Rhizome and Documenting the Now teams, and all others involved, for creating such a healthy space for conversation, insight, and sharing, and I hope for more events like this in the future. Thank you!