Facebook forever : privacy, preservation and social networking records



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For the first time in history one billion subscribers are creating records using a single software platform: Facebook. Subscribers create historically significant Facebook records every day, yet there is no concerted effort to preserve these records. Archivists do not agree on whether or how these records will continue to exist, nor do they agree on the best way to preserve these records. At the same time, privacy advocates are concerned that social networking records will continue to exist "forever" and therefore have serious privacy implications. In this study I examine the seemingly opposing viewpoints of privacy scholars and archivists. I find that privacy scholars are concerned that the lack of subscriber control over social networking records threatens privacy over time. Archivists address this lack of control through the concepts of donor agreements and the trusted digital repository, but the application of these concepts to the long-term preservation of Facebook records depends on who will preserve these records. I explore four different ways Facebook records may be preserved. I examine whether the U.S. federal government can and should play a role in encouraging Facebook to preserve records. I find that the U.S. federal government is unlikely to take action. I take a first step in empirically examining the likelihood that individual Facebook subscribers will preserve their own records using both an online survey (n = 144) and focus group to ask Facebook subscribers what they expect to happen to their Facebook records. I find that Facebook subscribers do not trust Facebook, do not think about preservation when they use Facebook, and do not expect their Facebook records to exist forever. This research makes four contributions to existing literature: a discussion of the value of social networking records and whether they should be preserved, a close examination of the differing opinions of archivists and privacy scholars about these records, a discussion of the role public policy might play in the preservation of Facebook records and privacy in the United States, and an empirical exploration of the attitudes and behaviors of a small group of Facebook subscribers related to preservation and privacy.