The Internet Archive and the Socio-Technical Construction of Historical Facts

Open Lecture with Dr. Anat Ben-David, senior lecturer in the department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication at The Open University of Israel and co-founder of the Open University's Open Media and Information Lab

2018.05.09 | Tina Pabst

Date Thu 31 May
Time 09:00 10:00
Location Incuba, Small Auditorium (building 5520, Åbogade 15, room 104)

After years of stabilisation in the reputation of the web as a reliable source of knowledge, recent events

around the 2016 presidential elections in the United States have brought with them new questions about the

epistemology and ontology of online materials: how do we know how to trust an online source? What tools

do we have to distinguish between fact and fake? What are the knowledge processes behind the generation

of what we see on the screen? Among the various knowledge-devices of the world wide Web, the Internet

Archive's Wayback Machine is considered one of the last reliable non-commercial initiatives, committed to

providing universal access to archived snapshots of historical websites, as they were captured in real time.

Yet what are the epistemic processes behind the generation of archived snapshots as facts? This talk aims

to strengthen the ontological status of archived websites as evidence, by debunking the Wayback Machine

as a monolithic device. Its argues that rather than an arbitrary capturing of snapshots by bots and crawlers,

historical knowledge on the Wayback Machine is generated by an entangled and iterative system comprised

of proactive human contributions, routinely operated crawls and a reification of external, crowd-sourced

knowledge devices. These turn the IAWM into a repository whose knowing of the past is potentially surplus –

harboring information which was unknown to each of the contributing actors at the time and place of


The event is hosted by Centre for Internet Studies, AU.

Lecture / talk