Why the White House is Hiring a Social Media Archivist

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In the wake of the Watergate scandal, the US Congress passed the Presidential Records Act (PRA) in 1978. This act changed the legal ownership of official records from the Executive Office of the President (EOP) from private to public and mandated that these records be filed with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Although policies and procedures have been in place for years for preserving and archiving paper and electronic traditional documents and records, as White House (and by extension, EOP) communication extends into areas of social media, that presents new challenges in archiving things like blog postings, Twitter (Twitter) messages, YouTube (YouTube) videos and so-on. This content, plus the comments and replies associated with them (think letters to the President) all need to be archived under the PRA.

This isn’t a cut-and-dried process so the White House needs someone who can implement a process to make archiving the EOP social media streams efficient, accessible and most importantly, safe for the future.


Last month, the Federal Business Opportunities web site posted a notice seeking bid-proposals from and outside contractor do do just that. You can read the entire 51-page document if you are curious (or are thinking about entering a bid), but here’s an excerpt of the background:

“In order to comply with the Presidential Records Act, the White House New Media team is looking for a non personal service contractor to crawl and archive PRA content on all third party sites where the EOP has a presence (i.e. Facebook (Facebook).com/whitehouse, Twitter.com/whitehouse). Currently, the Government team is capturing the data and content both programmatically (via Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) from social networks) and manually (through daily screen shots). EOP requires a provider to ensure we automatically capture this content in a scalable, efficient and reliable manner.”

As social media becomes a more integral part of how the government communicates, saving that data and making sure it is accessible and recorded in the proper context for the future becomes more and more important.

It’s easy to think that the web is “forever” but just think about how many web services shut down every day or how many bloggers close down their sites or don’t renew their domain names. Archive.org only goes so far. When legal (and in this case, federal) obligations are at stake, making sure that records are preserved is vitally important.

Do you preserve your own lifestreaming data? What about your company? What do you think needs to be done to make archiving social media streams more accessible?

(Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives on Flickr (Flickr))


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About CKH888

Not much to tell. Um.... I author news and art blogs now & then. :-)
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