Born Digital Photographs and Video shared via Social Media or Uploaded to Cloud Services

   Endangered large

Digital images or video with no analogue equivalent and where the only copy is online with a social media platform. This entry includes images or videos created and shared as part of personal digital archiving, but also for businesses and others publishing data only via these services. Users of these services will likely lose their data if social media companies fold or make extracting or downloading data difficult.

Digital Species: Social Media, Sound and Vision, Web, Cloud

Trend in 2022:

No changeNo Change

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2018

Trend in 2023:

No changeNo Change

Previously: Endangered

Imminence of Action

Action is recommended within three years, detailed assessment within one year.

Significance of Loss

The loss of tools, data or services within this group would impact on people and sectors around the world.

Effort to Preserve

Loss seems likely: by the time tools or techniques have been developed, the material will likely have been lost.


Flickr; Vimeo; YouTube; Instagram; Periscope; Snapchat; TikTok; Vine; Facebook; X (previously Twitter).

‘Critically Endangered’ in the Presence of Aggravating Conditions

Lack of preservation capacity in provider; lack of explicit preservation commitment or incentive from provider to preserve; lack of storage replication by provider; dependence on proprietary products or formats; poor management of data protection; inaccessibility to automated web crawlers; political or commercial interference; lack of offline equivalent; over-abundance; poorly managed intellectual property rights; lossy compression applied in upload scripts.

‘Vulnerable’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Offline backup; lossless compression; good documentation; access to web harvesting; clarity of intellectual property rights that enable preservation; credible preservation commitment from service provider; export pathway.

2023 Review

This entry was added by the 2018 Jury as a subset of a broader social media entry first introduced in 2017 to draw attention to the different challenges faced by the growing volumes of photographs and video recordings on social media continuing to rise and, therefore, the scale of the challenge to ensure a meaningful legacy aggravated by the issue of overabundance in which appraisal decisions for preservation or deletion are overwhelmed. The entry shares many challenges with others in the social media group, with a dependency on a global service provider whose business model can only be presumed and tied to users via asymmetrical contracts that favour the supplier. Moreover, because these services have a low barrier to entry, they are used by agencies or individuals least able to respond to closure or loss.

Both the 2020 and 2021 reviews of the entry noted a trend towards greater risk. The 2020 trend referenced the closure of the EverAlbum photo storage and changes to the Flickr free service, which provided examples of the short turnaround of closures within the photo-sharing community and pointed to the volatility in the market. The 2021 trend was added in light of surrounding global crises (predominantly the coronavirus pandemic, compounded by vaccine hesitancy, but also the deterioration of the world's democracies) as a result of widespread misinformation, increasing the significance and impact of loss of digital materials. The 2022 Task Force agreed these risks remain on the same basis as before, with no significant trend towards even greater or reduced risk (‘no change’ to trend).

The 2023 Council agreed with the Endangered classification and noted an increase in effort to preserve, recognizing that while the need for major efforts to prevent or reduce losses continues, it is now much more likely that loss of material has already occurred, and will continue to do so, by the time tools or techniques develop.

The 2023 Council also recommended adjusting this and other social media entries in light of how web-based and cloud-based business products and services have developed in recent years. This restructuring and revision included:

  • Narrowing the scope. The scope of the entry has been narrowed to draw attention to the challenges of preserving images and videos disseminated through social media platforms specifically (e.g., sharing-driven and social networking platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok). These challenges primarily relate to harvesting and managing the images, video recordings and data generated by users' interactions on web-based networking platforms.

  • As part of the above rescoping, the entry's name was changed from ‘Born Digital Photographs and Video Shared via Social Media or Uploaded to Cloud Services’ to ‘Born Digital Photographs and Video Shared via Social Media Platforms’, and information concerning cloud-based aspects were incorporated into the ‘Cloud-based Services and Communications Platforms’ entry to more clearly differentiate the risks associated with cloud hosting and computing technologies. 

Additional Comments

The 2023 Council additionally recommended that the next major review revisit and consider merging the Born Digital Photographs and Video shared via Social Media Platforms and Consumer Social Media Free at the Point of Use entries. This is mostly due to the fact that so many of the ‘regular’ social media platforms have tended toward more ways to mimic or copy TikTok style videos, and making the distinction will become harder in the future since they all have similar functionality and ways to create photo/video content.

We can point to some examples of content only on YouTube, for instance, that may be desired for acquisition for a library. Typically, YouTube would be acquired through web archiving, but with recent and ongoing challenges capturing this content, it may require contacting the creator to try to acquire the original video files to preserve through other workflows. This creates the challenge of determining who to reach out to, how to transfer those files and, if the files only exist on the social media platform, how to extract them to transfer to an organization for preservation. With crawling capabilities limited these days, Libraries will have to rely more on individuals archiving their own content and donating it to organizations. It's not clear what that workflow looks like and if there are adequate methods to support it.

The types of users for these services vary greatly - from a private individual uploading a few videos to share with friends to major agencies who use the platform to disseminate important information or research. The extent to which private individuals and even large institutions are aware of digital preservation risks is unclear, though anecdotal evidence suggests that awareness is extremely low. Therefore, it can be assumed that most users (regardless of the significance of their content) do not keep local copies or take other measures to mitigate the risk of loss from these types of platforms. Additionally, risk varies from platform to platform. YouTube, for example, only allows low-quality downloads even for content owners. Therefore, if a content owner lost or deleted an original video file, it would be impossible to recover a high-quality copy from YouTube.

The vast majority of content may be accessible for as long as the platform where it is hosted is popular (and has a viable business model); however, more insidious content (such as malicious misinformation or hate speech) may be deleted by content creators (potentially backed by hostile governments) to avoid prosecution or tracing. It is unclear to what extent these platform providers are compelled to provide access to servers / deleted content or private content for evidential purposes in the course of legal or criminal investigations. The lack of transparency and standardized international regulation of these platforms make their content vulnerable to exploitation and malicious use by individuals, corporations, and hostile governments.

With digital materials from premium or institutional social media services, the business model and sustainability are more obvious, and contracts may be enforceable more readily. Moreover, because these services have a slightly higher barrier to entry, they may be favoured by agencies better able to respond to closure or loss. Traditional web archiving can be employed where the user pays for a service, but the content is ultimately publicly available (such as Flickr). But much is unclear about how to preserve internal social media / closed networks that web archiving cannot get to or existing tools do not cover.

Case Studies or Examples:

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