Funding secured to explore misinformation around the pandemic

A partnership led by the National Library of Scotland (NLS) has secured over £230,000 funding from the Wellcome Trust to archive and explore online information surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Titled ‘The Archive of Tomorrow: Health Information and Misinformation in the UK Web Archive’, the 14-month pilot project, starting in December 2021, will examine how libraries can archive websites and other online information about health. Specific aims of the project are:

  • to curate a new collection of websites within the UK Web Archive under the theme of ‘Health and Misinformation’;
  • use the collection explore options for metadata, computational analysis, ethics and rights issues;
  • build a research network across a range of disciplines;
  • make recommendations to make web archives more representative, inclusive, and open for health research.

Joseph Marshall, NLS’s Associate Director of Collections Management said:

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a global crisis of information vs misinformation which has played out mostly online. Government and medical websites changed on a daily basis as new information emerged, and there has been a massive proliferation of opining on social media and other online publications about coronavirus.

Health advice, data and scientific evidence have been contested, revised, used and misused with dramatic and sometimes tragic consequences, and yet the digital record of this is fragile and difficult to access. How easy will it be in a few years’ time to source the tweets, blogs and news stories from the past 18 months and will we be able to make sense of it all? These are the questions we’ll be asking.

The Bodleian Libraries will be playing a key supporting role to NLS alongside other project partners – Cambridge University Library, Edinburgh University Library and the British Library.

Following Thomas Bodley’s agreement with the Stationers’ Company in 1610 that the Bodleian Library could claim a copy of everything printed in the British Isles, legal deposit legislation has been expanded to include five additional libraries and, within the UK, libraries are now allowed to collect websites and add these to the UK Web Archive.

This project will preserve 10,000 sites relating to health – both official and unofficial – and use this collection to make web archives more accessible for researchers and members of the public. Even if a contested website or webpage has been deleted, it’s possible it can still be archived through this project, so it can be included in the research of the proliferation of misinformation.

Joseph Marshall adds:

Libraries have always strived to collect the stories of our times, and this is more important than ever when information is literally a matter of life and death. We will ensure a wide representation of diverse and otherwise un-collected sources. And we will tackle some thorny questions including how we can ethically capture and describe misinformation and fake news for posterity. It’s our hope that a project like this will help us make sense of events of the past 18 months, and ultimately improve our ability to interrogate factual information and misinformation in the future.