UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

The archival trustworthiness of digital photographs in social media platforms. Bushey, Jessica


No longer objects held in the hand, photographs are streams of bits, shared instantaneously across screens. From selfies to war reportage, the widespread use of smartphones for taking digital photographs and transmitting them to social media platforms is introducing new social practices, technological processes and legal contexts for record-making and recordkeeping, which impact the trustworthiness of digital photographs. This dissertation investigates current information practices by individuals for creating, managing, sharing and storing digital photographs. The research focuses on the factors that support or hinder the reliability, accuracy and authenticity of digital photographs. Using a qualitative research design, it explores how individuals’ activities and perceptions impact the value of digital photographs held in social media platforms as potential records to be acquired and preserved by archival institutions. A web-based survey reached social media members worldwide, and semi-structured interviews gathered in-depth data from a sample of survey participants. The research found that individuals are members of multiple social media platforms and are actively sharing large quantities of personal digital photographs with friends, social media communities and the open Web. It also revealed that individuals are adding contextual information to their digital photographs, before and after upload to social media platforms, for the purposes of communicating the intent of the photographer and the meaning of the photograph, and of participating in storytelling; however, the procedures for managing and storing user-generated content performed by social media services place the digital photographs and their associated metadata at significant risk of alteration and loss. The research found that the policies of social media services are buried within complex Terms of Use that few members read, introducing the potential for individuals to accumulate personal digital collections or archives online without understanding the extent of ownership, privacy, reuse, and future access. The research found that individuals’ attribute long-term value to the copies of digital photographs held on their personal devices prior to sharing online; whereas, the copies circulated in social media platforms are ephemeral, quickly consumed and then forgotten. Individuals have not made plans to delete, transfer or preserve collections of photographs held within social media services.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International