The world is a beautiful and terrible place

This is the text for my presention at the “National Forum on Ethics and Archiving the Web”.

I had the honour of being on an Archiving Trauma panel with some great people. Michael Connor, Chido Muchemwa, Coral Salomón, Tonia Sutherland, and Lauren Work, thank you for sharing your stories!

The world is a beautiful and terrible place.

Twitter can be beautiful.

Twitter is fucking awful.

So, capturing traumatic events on Twitter.

Questions. I got a whole lot of questions.

A couple months ago, Valérie Schafer asked me a couple of questions for an article that she was working on that really gave me pause, and think about things.

“Why archiving the Web or social networks during and after terrorist attacks?”

I’ll fix some grammar here, and combine some answers, because, y’know, l’esprit d’escalier.

It’s a combination of personal reasons and professional ethos.

These two quotes by Brien Brothman are always rattling around in my brain, and really help guide the archivist side of me:

For archivists to abstain from cultural awareness and criticism is tantamount to professional irresponsibility.

“The warning is that if archivists ignore the cultural mandate of their profession, in favor of an administrative point of view and role, the profession will lose vitality.”

So, why do I do this?

I have the knowledge, skills and resources to do this, and I strongly believe that it should be done.

I don’t know if others will be doing it, and if they do, will they make the dataset(s) available?

So, I do it because I can.

I have the power and resources to do it.

I have the privilege.

I believe it is right to make sure these voices and conversations are preserved.

I hope something good will come out of these awful tragedies.

I also want to I want to help get others started downstream.

By that I mean, a lot of the analysis is outside my discipline. I’m not very comfortable with doing the analysis, and providing commentary on it.

But, I am comfortable with collecting and documenting the process, and helping other researchers get started with analysing the data.

At the end of it, it may seem naive, but I believe this type of work requires an interdisciplinary team working together as peers to pull the best insights from the data.

Is that really naive?

I think it is.

Do you?

It’s why we’re here, right? To talk about it. :-)

How about two more questions?

“Hey man, why are you capturing and documenting how to capture social media? You’re helping the surveillance state.”

“What’s a traumatic event?”

  • #jesuischarlie
  • #aleppo
  • #ymmfire
  • #bataclan

These are all examples of traumatic events, right?

How about this…

What if somebody creates a whole bunch of Twitter accounts and…

  • Photoshops a swastika on your forehead;
  • Says you’re anti-semitic;
  • Says you’re an Islamophobe;
  • Says you’re a white supremacist;
  • Harasses and tries to intimidates your partner;
  • Says you’re doing all the things to them, that they are actually doing to you.

That’s traumatic, right?

What if you capture all of that and give it to the authorities?

Are you still helping the surveillance state?

The world is grey, and all I have are a bunch of questions.

But really, the big one, which might not have an answer is: How do we capture traumatic events, without further harm?

I honestly don’t know if we can.

This isn’t new.

A whole lot of really smart people have written about it, and experienced it.

But, life happens. We can capture a perspective glimpse of it.

And, if we can capture all of this, and share it, before we have the time to read and process what everybody has written, is that ok?

Yes, good intentions aren’t good enough across the board.

So, what’s the framework/guide/rules/law/ethics for sharing it?

How do we say this in accessible language?

Can we?

Sorry for the cop-out.

I really wanted to just come here and listen to all of you, because I hope you’ll have the answers to all my questions.

Thank you for listening to me.

Nick Ruest
Associate Librarian


comments powered by Disqus