TLDR; I created a small command line utility waybackprov to help try to understand who is doing all the work of deciding what needs to get archived from the web … like Pruitt’s (now deleted) Twitter timeline.


Last week, amidst at least 14 separate federal investigations by the Government Accountability Office, Scott Pruitt resigned from his post as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Soon afterwards he deleted the Twitter account @EPAScottPruit which he had used to do official business.



It’s unclear what records the EPA and or NARA have of this account. Fortunately the Internet Archive appear to have a good record of the account, especially after January, 2018. However, Pruitt created his account in February, 2017.

As noted by Howard, ProPublica’s Politwoops project is great for tracking deleted tweets from elected representatives (Fung, 2015). But unelected administration officials like Pruitt don’t appear to be covered. George Washington University’s Social Feed Manager Project do extensive collecting of government Twitter accounts, and have what appears to be a full set of Pruitt’s tweets. But uncertainty about whether deleted tweets from public officials can be made publicly available works to restrict how accessible this data can be for research. You may need to belong to GWU’s research community to access them.

So, Internet Archive’s collection, as made available through their Wayback Machine, is incredibly important for the majority of people interested in knowing what Pruitt’s public communications were. Here is what the coverage of Pruitt’s Twitter timeline looks like in the Wayback Machine for 2017 and 2018.


As you can see coverage prior to January, 2018 is kind of spotty. Getting the home timeline for the user timeline is important because it continually changes, and the Internet Archive’s crawler will only get the initial page of results. It doesn’t activate the infinite scroll along the bottom that would fetch all the of the tweets Pruitt has sent. So if you don’t fetch it regularly you want necessarily get all his tweets.

But this is understandable and perfectly reasonable. The Internet Archive isn’t responsible for archiving all of Twitter. However high-value resources like Pruitt’s social media account can be deemed worth extra attention and care. In archives this process is called appraisal, or the process of identifying materials of sufficient value to be collected and preserved. I thought it was interesting to see that the increased coverage around January 6. Who was responsible for the extra coverage?

If you hover over one of the days in the calendar, and then again over one of the crawl timestamps you’ll see that some information pops up in the center of the screen next to a label ‘why’. It’s pretty small so you might miss it. This information tells you what collections the crawl was added to. If you click on the crawl and bring up the page of interest, you can open a section of the page by clicking on About this Capture there’s a section of the page.

Content in the Wayback machine was selected by someone, or perhaps by something (a piece of software), that was in turn designed by someone. The Internet Archive run their own crawls using various data sources (Twitter, Wikipedia, Alexa, etc). Selecting these data streams and how to work with them gets expressed as an algorithm (or heuristic). While it may seem like there are no people involved in these automated appraisal flows, they are present both as the designer of the flow, and also the individuals represented in the datastream: e.g people tweeting a URL that causes it to get archived, or adding a link to a Wikipedia page that causes it to get archived. People are very much present, but somewhat removed.

But individuals can also submit content to be archived in a much more direct way via the SavePageNow feature, and web archivists working at thousands of ArchiveIt institutions select content to be archived (Taylor, 2014). The spotty coverage followed by routine coverage displayed above indicated some kind of intervention being made. But who?

To answer this I wrote a small utility called waybackprov that uses an undocumented API call behind the Wayback calendar view to collect the collection information and summarize it. So we can see what collections have added a URL most often.

% waybackprov https://twitter.com/epascottpruitt
364 https://archive.org/details/focused_crawls
306 https://archive.org/details/edgi_monitor
151 https://archive.org/details/www3.epa.gov
 60 https://archive.org/details/epa.gov4
 47 https://archive.org/details/epa.gov5
 37 https://archive.org/details/epa.gov2
 33 https://archive.org/details/top_domains
 24 https://archive.org/details/archiveitdigitalcollection
 24 https://archive.org/details/archiveitpartners
 21 https://archive.org/details/top_domains-06500
 12 https://archive.org/details/salon.com
 12 https://archive.org/details/nytimes.com
 12 https://archive.org/details/top_news
 11 https://archive.org/details/epa.gov3
  9 https://archive.org/details/top_domains-07500
  9 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Collection-8119
  7 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Collection-5518
  4 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Partner-1346
  4 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Collection-9742
  4 https://archive.org/details/warczone
  1 https://archive.org/details/twitter.com
  1 https://archive.org/details/pressassociation.com
  1 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Collection-9737
  1 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Partner-510
  1 https://archive.org/details/top_domains-03500
  1 https://archive.org/details/yahoo.com
  1 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Collection-10403
  1 https://archive.org/details/webwidecrawl
  1 https://archive.org/details/newscrawl
  1 https://archive.org/details/ximm-collections-news-crawls-v3

It simply counts how many times a given URL was added to a collection for a given year (the default is the current year). As you can see 364 of the crawls are in the collection focused_crawls followed close behind by edgi_monitor. What’s interesting, and a bit confusing, is that a crawl can be part of multiple collections, and Internet Archive collections can be part of other collections. When a URL crawled and the data is added to a collection it also seems to be added to all those other parent collections. At least that’s how it appears in the API results. So for example, in the output above edgi_monitor is a sub-collection of focused_crawls. This makes the results a bit more tricky to interpret. Which collections were the website’s added to directly, and who owned those collections?

To try to solve this waybackprov has a –collapse option which will use Internet Archive’s Metadata API to determine what collections are part of which, and will only report the deepest collection in the hierarchy, so in this case edgi_monitor. Here’s what those results look like:

% waybackprov --collapse https://twitter.com/epascottpruitt
151 https://archive.org/details/www3.epa.gov
 60 https://archive.org/details/epa.gov4
 47 https://archive.org/details/epa.gov5
 37 https://archive.org/details/epa.gov2
 21 https://archive.org/details/top_domains-06500
 12 https://archive.org/details/salon.com
 12 https://archive.org/details/nytimes.com
 11 https://archive.org/details/epa.gov3
  9 https://archive.org/details/top_domains-07500
  9 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Collection-8119
  7 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Collection-5518
  4 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Collection-9742
  4 https://archive.org/details/warczone
  2 https://archive.org/details/archiveitpartners
  1 https://archive.org/details/twitter.com
  1 https://archive.org/details/pressassociation.com
  1 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Collection-9737
  1 https://archive.org/details/top_domains-03500
  1 https://archive.org/details/yahoo.com
  1 https://archive.org/details/ArchiveIt-Collection-10403
  1 https://archive.org/details/ximm-collections-news-crawls-v3

Here we can see the results look quite different. If you look at the collection pages by bringing them up in your browser you can see that the top 4 are all from the edgi_monitor collection, which is run by the Website Monitoring of the Environmental and Data Governance Initiative (EDGI). EDGI is a non-profit , largely volunteer run organization that works to address potential threts to federal government and energy policy. Doing the math we can see that EDGI is responsible for 75.8% of all the crawls (295 / 393) of Pruitt’s Twitter page.

So thank you EDGI, and thank you Internet Archive!

Hopefully this little foray into answering a question has created a utility (waybackprov) that’s useful to you. Let me know if you have any questions or ideas about it. Hopefully this little case study also illustrates how important your role is as a person is to archiving the web. Whether you are designing systems and workflows for selecting particular content, are directly selecting content yourself, or find yourself somewhere in between, your voice matters and agency matter…a lot.

Coda: Thank You Concerned Citizens

After publishing this, David Van Duzer got in touch to show me how you can use the Wayback’s CDX API to see how many of Pruitt’s individual tweets were archived at the Internet Archive. He gave them to me as a list of 628 URLs which was startlingly close to the 631 that GWU collected.

Here’s a way of grabbing the URLs out of the CDX API, and consolidating them (a URL can be crawled more than once).

curl 'http://web.archive.org/cdx/search/cdx?url=twitter.com/EPAScottPruitt/status&matchType=prefix' \
  | cut -f 3 -d ' ' \
  | perl -ne '/(status\/\d+$)/; print "https://twitter.com/EPAScottPruitt/$1\n";' \
  | sort \
  | uniq;

The CDX API can return the same URL with HTTP and HTTPS protocols so I used a bit of Perl to account for that. If you know of a more elegant way to get this information please share it. You can find the resulting list of URLs here.

In addition to being a command line utility, you can also use waybackprov as a small library. I wrote a small program to read the tweet URLs from a file and then summarize the collections that were used to collect these individual tweets:


#!/usr/bin/env python3 

import collections
import waybackprov

coll_count = collections.Counter()

for line in open('pruitt_tweets.txt'):
    url = line.strip()
    for crawl in waybackprov.get_crawls(url, start_year=2017, end_year=2018, collapse=True):
        coll_count.update(crawl['collections'])

for coll_id, count in coll_count.most_common():
    print("%5i %s" % (count, coll_id))

Here’s what it found:

 1026 liveweb
   38 ArchiveIt-Collection-5518
   38 GovWebDataArchive
   18 ArchiveIt-Collection-6793
   15 archiveitpartners
   15 warczone
   12 ArchiveIt-Collection-1632
   11 top_domains-07500
   11 ArchiveIt-Collection-6829
   10 ArchiveIt-Collection-5486
    7 archivebot
    7 ArchiveIt-Collection-9813
    6 ArchiveIt-Collection-9742
    4 ArchiveIt-Collection-6830
    4 ArchiveIt-Collection-2082
    4 twitterarchive
    4 ArchiveIt-Collection-8119
    3 ArchiveIt-Collection-9323
    3 aol.com
    3 nytimes.com
    2 ArchiveIt-Partner-89
    2 ArchiveIt-Collection-10270
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-1657
    1 NO404-GDELT
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-8905
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-7319
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-7310
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-5456
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-10284
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-9430
    1 ArchiveIt-Partner-480
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-2361
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-3241
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-2948
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-10368
    1 ArchiveIt-Collection-10403
    1 ximm-collections-news-crawls-v3

So overwhelmingly (81%) of these individual tweets are being archived into the liveweb collection, which is the collection that the Internet Archive’s SavePageNow function feeds into. In other words, there are either people or bots that made sure that each of Scott Pruitt’s tweets (all but 3?) were archived. But who these kinds souls are is a mystery.

If you are interested I put the full JSON results of running waybackprov on the tweet URLs up as a gist.

References

Fung, B. (2015). Twitter killed this service that tracks politicians’ deleted tweets. Now it might bring it back. Washington Post.

Taylor, N. (2014). The MH17 crash and selective web archiving. The Signal: Digital Preservation. Library of Congress. Retrieved from http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2014/07/21503/