‘Everything on the Internet can be saved’: Archive Team and the death/resurrection of Tumblr NSFW

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)


Recent trends in communication and Internet research show a growing interest in the significance and impact of content moderation practices on the rise and fall of social media platforms. This research has often focused on specific platform policies, the technical apparatuses of content delivery, the invisible labour of content moderation, and the effects of this labour on the actors themselves and digital life online (Gillespie, 2018; Roberts, 2019). As an example, Tumblr’s 2018 removal of so-called ‘adult content’ and ‘Not Safe for Work’ (NSFW) posts provides evidence for the effects of policy changes on the platform’s vitality, where once home to a thriving LGBTQ+ community, the platform has reportedly since been reduced by ‘one-fifth’ (Cuthbertson, 2019). And whilst a range of contemporary scholarship has attended to the effects of content moderation on communities of Tumblr users, currently missing from this area of research in an examination of how various web archiving initiatives and activities are intervening and shaping access to platform content in the face of removal, neglect and outright deletion.

This paper examines efforts on the part of Archive Team - a self-described ‘loose collective of rogue archivists, programmers, writers and loudmouths’ - to archive Tumblr NSFW posts prior to their removal in 2018. Although featured in numerous news media articles since their formation in 2009, the specifics regarding the processes that underpin Archive Team’s web archiving activities have yet to receive critical attention. Here, I use the case of Archive Team to reflect on ‘web archiving as culture’ and emphasise the ways that practices are filtered through and structured by ‘strategies of action’ that shape how the Web is archived. In doing so, the paper contributes to broader discussions of platform politics and the role of power in the production of online memory, and raises further questions about the ethics of web archives and their positioning as historical representations of online culture.

This research contributes two overarching observations about the cultural significance of Archive Team (as a community of practice) and web archival practices, more generally. The first is that web archiving is produced within cultural worlds that produce meaning through practice - in this case, a community of practice dedicated to archiving ‘everything on the Internet’. Archive Team’s origin story is first used to contextualise the early visions for a volunteer ‘emergency response team’ and the ways this has evolved over time. The second observation is that web archiving is a transformative force; where a focus on cultural practices works to frame the ways the Web is altered through archiving. Practice dilemmas are revealed that highlight the impact of ‘folk theories’ about the Tumblr platform and claims regarding which particular components of the site were deemed worth saving (and conversely, not worth saving), and why. In turn, the study reflects the performative ways that web archiving is shaped by community practice and culture, and critically positions archiving as a transformative force that shapes the nature of our interaction with the Web that was.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternet Histories
Publication statusIn preparation - 3 Oct 2020

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