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17c The politics of preservation: web archiving in dangerous times
In response to the scale and character of content on the web, collecting institutions are increasingly using automated software and third-party applications to develop contemporary archival collections. This paper focuses on web archiving as one example of these increasingly distributed and technology-saturated processes. I explore how these dynamics impact what is selected for the archive, and how it is made available, and the kind of uses to which it is put. Particularly, it focuses on the political consequences of preserving ephemeral content on the web and making it available. Through several examples, I highlight unexpected uses of web archives that draw attention to their politics: from their use for hosting propaganda and misinformation to their potential use in surveillance. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork at the National Library of Australia, I outline how web archivists navigate the ethical tensions and political implications of web archiving in their day-to-day work. I detail how curation in this context becomes a process distributed between people and technical systems, impacting the nature of what is selected, and how web archivists intervene and challenge the logic of automated decision-making. Through these examples, I highlight how web archiving is not simply a technical process: rather, like all forms of archiving, it is a cultural practice that interacts with the politics and ethics of how knowledge is produced, disseminated and authorised in society.
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