published quarterly by the university of borås, sweden

vol. 24 no. 3, September, 2019

Proceedings of RAILS - Research Applications, Information and Library Studies, 2018:
Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University, Australia, 28-30 November 2018.

Connecting personal and community memory-making: Facebook Groups as emergent community archives

Leisa Gibbons

Introduction. Facebook groups provide spaces for 'emergent community archives' where individuals document and share community memory and identity. This paper asks what stories are being told about personal and community memory-making by the existence of these emergent community archives?
Method.Criteria identifying emergent community archives was applied in search for Facebook groups related to Western Australia. In total, twenty-seven groups were found, fourteen public and thirteen closed.
Analysis. The Facebook groups were analysed using narrative analysis techniques that ask questions about how, where, and to whom the story is told, what types of stories are being told, what patterns or features do the stories have, and what larger discourses or narratives are being encountered or communicated.
Results. Activities in Facebook groups show a patterning around how stories are told. Choices made about how to represent a group identity and memory are generally limited due to the functionality of Facebook platform. Overall, the primary story being told concerns Facebook's control over memory-making and how the Group system promotes a fragmented community memory.
Conclusions. Fragmented memories do not allow or provide a sense of how long people expect the groups to exist or what role they might play over time. The second stage research will ask Facebook Group administrators their reasons, expectations and requirements for community memory-making.


Facebook Groups are an online technology that provides a 'space to communicate about shared interests with certain people' (para. 1) and a tool to build community (Facebook Help Centre, 2019a ). Groups can be either public, closed or secret and created around any kind of shared purpose. Facebook requires individuals via their personal accounts to create Facebook Groups, and after this it is possible to add other members, including those who may take authoritative positions such as administrators who co-manage the group (Facebook Help Centre, 2019a ). The use of the Facebook platform to create, capture and manage community identity and memory is understood as purposeful memory-making, driven by a desire to archive and remember. Halbwachs (1992) discusses memory via the processes of remembering which refers to the use, interpretation and reconstruction of existing information. In this research project, the goal is to seek out and explore Facebook groups dedicated to the purpose of remembering.

Facebook Groups used as spaces for documenting community identity and memory are described in this research project as being emergent or coming into being community archives. Contemporary discussions about community archives often describes their existence as being driven by a community's need to control the documentation of own identity and memory (Flinn, 2007; Gilliland, 2012; Gilliland and Flinn, 2013). In this sense, contemporary community archiving and archives is considered a social movement (Cook, 2011; Flinn, 2010; Sheffield, 2017). How and why communities document themselves and create archives is still an emerging area of research. While there is acknowledgement that community archives can exist anywhere (Gilliland, 2012; Gilliland and Flinn, 2013), how and why communities might use a social media platform such as Facebook to create, capture and manage a shared community identity and memory has not as yet been explored in the literature. Emergent community archives are therefore conceptualised as outside spaces, created for remembering and sharing identity and memory by utilising technology that appears suited to the purpose.

Examining emergent community archives and their value to individuals and communities provides an opportunity to explore what Cook refers to as 'ways of imagining archives and archiving' (2013, p. 97). Cook describes these ways as being part of an archival mindset, a worldview that is not exclusive to the domain of the professional archivist or institutional archives. Cook (2013) advocates for the archival profession and discipline to learn from how communities are documenting themselves and exchange knowledge about different ways of doing and seeing archives. Yet, much of the literature about community archives, how they are formed, what role and value they have as collective memory comes from a professional and scholarly archival mindset. For example, while Gilliland and Flinn warn against categorising or limiting the notion of what community is or what community archives might look like or how the term archives is used, they also construct and share defining characteristics drawing from professional archival concepts and terminology (Flinn, 2007; Flinn, Stevens and Shepherd, 2009; Gilliland, 2012; Gilliland and Flinn, 2013). Furthermore, discussion around the creation and management of community archives is regularly placed within post-custodial and/or participatory archiving discourses, both terms that have varied models and manifestations of meaning within archival theory and practice (as demonstrated in Cunningham 2011; Huvila, 2015; Kelleher, 2010). This research seeks ways of understanding how an archival mindset is manifest in emergent community archives.

The technology itself also plays a key role in actions dedicated to remembering. Acker and Brubaker (2014), in their exploration of Facebook, point out that memory-making technologies (Acker and Brubaker refer to them as documentation technologies) shape personal and community memory practice (p. 6), a notion shared by Gibbons (2015) in her work on YouTube. Acker and Brubaker's research contends that individual and community memories are connected and exist within and as part of 'transactional and organisational systems' (2014, p.2). Yet Facebook is also inherently social and facilitates actions simultaneously by providing multiple spaces including public, private, personal and corporate. Records continuum scholar McKemmish (1996) discusses the role that personal recordkeeping plays as a social system that, in revealing 'a life', can simultaneously provide evidence of informational, cultural and social memory. Exploring how technological and social systems interconnect will help to provide a clearer understanding of how Facebook, as a technology system, creates and captures evidence of individuals connecting with communities.

With these contexts in mind, the primary research question is: What stories are being told about personal and community memory-making by the existence of emergent community archives using Facebook Groups? The focus on stories is an exploration of narratives constructed through performed actions. The methodology used to answer this question is narrative analysis, a tool that asks questions about the stories being told by each Facebook groups existence. Remembering and memory-making is therefore framed as a story, narrative or performance that relies on actions of creation, conceptualisation and communication that exists in many ways including internal and external, self and community, individual and collective, personal and corporate. The process presented in this paper represents the first steps in this exploring these ideas and discovering new ways of approaching the problem.

The paper is structured as follows. The next section describes the theoretical framework of systems thinking and memory-making. The literature review presents an overview of various research on participating in, capturing and valuing Facebook as personal and community memory. Following this is an overview of the research methodology and processes. The findings section reports on the stories being told about individual and shared community memory-making in the identified Facebook groups. The discussion focusses on the use of Facebook groups and the stories they tell about intersecting memory systems and use of technologies. The conclusion proposes insight into the further research needed to uncover and support 'sensitivity to others' epistemic beliefs' and to design collective memory-making systems.

Memory-making and systems thinking


Cook (2013) uses the term memory-making to describe processes undertaken by various diverse groups of people as part of creating, inventing, re-inventing and re-imaging identity over time. Gibbons (2015), influenced by Ketelaar's (1999) notion of 'archivisation' extends Cook's ideas to define memory-making as 'a participative, dynamic co-created process embedded in shared practices, norms and values...linked to different contexts and interactions over time' (p. 86). Ketelaar's 'archivalisation' references Derrida's (1996) 'archivation' to describe 'the conscious or unconscious choice to consider something worth archiving' (1999, p. 57). Archivalisation refers to the act and process of recordkeeping for multiple purposes, such as witnessing and memorialisation, as well as administration and evidentiality. Archivalisation is not just about creating and managing records but necessarily must concern intent.

Memory-making as an action of archivalisation is an activity of power, wielded by memory institutions such as archives, libraries and museums. However, memory-making is not an exclusive or singular process. Archivalisation is also concerned with narratives and counternarratives in which recordkeeping sits for individuals, as well as the groups and community of participants, and even the corporate entities who provide the social services. These narratives contain valuable information about the process of developing and bearing a cultural identity and how this process works in a social media space.

Added to the above contexts is the notion of co-creation, introduced to the archival literature by Ketelaar (2008) and influenced by Hurley's (2005) discussions on creatorship and parallel provenance. Recognising the existence of co-creation acknowledges that actions are never singular or isolated but exist within, and connect to, various contexts which can be simultaneous, parallel, contested, multiple and/or divergent. Memory-making is not a singular, linear action but exists within and mediated by technologies as well as diverse cultural and social factors, values and ideology. Memory-making is therefore part of everyday recordkeeping processes by individuals who make choices about value, use and need for recorded information, including what to create and share on social media platforms.

Systems thinking

The Oxford English Dictionary explains systems as structures consisting of interconnected processes, tools and people that supports the creation of a complex integrated whole (System, 2019). Systems thinking in this paper incorporates this definition but is specifically influenced by Upward and McKemmish's writings about recordkeeping systems and Giddens's ideas about social systems (Giddens, 1984; McKemmish, 1996; Upward, 1996). Upward (1996) explains that recordkeeping systems are created through intersections with other systems. These other systems include communications, organisation and classification, as well as social, cultural or historical memory, purpose, functions and identity. By their very nature, systems are imbued with power through resources allocated to them and the role(s) they enable and legitimise over time. Upward cites Giddens when discussing systems and power (Giddens, 1984; Upward, 1996). Giddens (1984) explains systems as being reproduced practices or the 'patterning of social relations' (p. 377) across space and time that contribute to the ongoing creation, recreation and transformation of social structures. Integrated systems reach out beyond immediate physical or local interactions to extend their reach, impact and value across space and time (p. 64-65 and p. 377).

Collective memory systems, which can refer to institutions such as archives, museums and libraries, requires contextual information (such as metadata) to ensure that documents can continue to act as social, cultural and/or historical memory. In this sense, Facebook and all other social media platforms, and even the internet are collective memory systems. However, contextual information in these technologies is often tacit, intangible or hidden. Where metadata does exist, it is likely to be created primarily for corporate (and money-making) requirements rather than memory-making.

Literature review: Facebook as individual, community, collective and networked memory

The focus of the literature review is on the use and impact of Facebook as a space for information, documentation, memory, and identity. This topic spanned several disciplines and specialised areas of inquiry as documented in the sub-headings below.

Facebook is/is not a digital surrogate of physical documents

Skare and Lund (2014) analyse Facebook from a humanistic perspective to explain the functions and activities of what is performed on the site, drawing parallels between existing physical formats such as books, directories and newspapers. Good (2013) uses similar ideas in her study on the conceptual connections between use of scrapbooks and Facebook, explaining that these two forms (physical and virtual) share functions including documenting friendship, navigating new media abundance, and communicating taste and building cultural capital. Good argues that both forms contribute to social and archival contexts and should be considered 'cultural and biographical texts' (2013, p. 557). Skare and Lund highlight the differences between physical and virtual texts by exploring what it means to experience Facebook - to go inside through the act of logging in. Skare and Lund raise an important theme that features in many studies: the notion of personal, private and public space, and how individuals experience and craft their space is understood through the performance, function and inherently interconnected nature of different spaces. Inside space, texts and objects connect to the outside but the experience of Facebook and being online is inherently a personal experience.

Facebook as a personal memory-making space

A key point made by Skare and Lund is that Facebook is a 'kind of worldwide document' (2014, p.1). Although they mention this term once and never really articulate clearly what they mean, the notion that each registered person is a 'co-author' (p. 9) in the worldwide document is important to the concept of personal memory-making and connections to a shared space. In this personal space, individuals curate the perfect representation of self even going so far as to remove posts (p. 6). Yet, as Skare and Lund point out, the space is also co-constructed by the design of technology system itself where Facebook 'not only prevents the expression of negative emotions, posts with content difficult to like will soon "disappear" … because other, more "popular" posts will be more visible' (p. 6). This highlights a potential gap between perception of individual choice and the real-life lack of agency in personal memory-making.

Sinn and Syn (2014) cite Facebook as being an 'important repository for personal history' and highlight the potential interest the content of the site might have for 'the historical record' (p. 100). Sinn and Syn's research is driven by the notion of the intent to archive and the individual being responsible for downloading personal Facebook data (p. 101). Users have been able to download an archive of their own profile page since 2010 however Facebook have been adding more and more data they capture about you to what you can download. News reports on what can be downloaded provide useful insight into what data users or profile owners are able to see. See Nathan Ingraham's (2012) news article and contrast to Neil J. Rubenking's (2018) six years later. The current Facebook help page (2019b) dedicated to downloading a profile's information also provides a useful overview of what information is able to be downloaded. Sinn and Syn's research assumes that Facebook is something of a repository or space designed to document. They are working from assumptions not clearly articulated, for example in Sinn and Syn's scenario Facebook is an unambiguous and neutral tool that is used as a space for personal documentation activities.

Sinn and Syn conceptualise Facebook as a space for personal documentation, highlighting actions performed, such as what is shared on Facebook, when it is done, and what drives these decisions. However, their findings showed that users did not really think of their Facebook activities as personal archives, archiving or recording personal history, so challenge the notion of Facebook as a personal memory-making space. Nevertheless, individuals do document their lives in these spaces, and this drives Sinn and Syn's ideas about the value of Facebook profile pages as historical records for collective remembering. Yet, how Facebook works as a shared system for collective memories, and the influence of the corporate role of the platform is absent from Sinn and Syn's work.

Equally problematic is Marshall and Shipman's (2014) research contextualising Facebook as a storage place or repository through exploration of the value of profile content for institutional and collective memory. Designed to explore attitudes to a potential scenario of institutional archiving of Facebook, Marshall and Shipman's research reveals the highly complex nature of what exists on Facebook. For example, content created by other entities and not owned by the profile creator, conflicts and concerns about private and public data, and that these spaces are actively curated. The idea that Facebook is an information repository and that personal profile pages contribute valuable content does not take into account other aspects such as experiencing the presence of identity, curating the perfect representation of self, relationships to friends, and more recent work on constructed experiences through personalised algorithmic systems, as explored in the section below on fragmenting time.

Death, grief and memorialisation on Facebook: sharing personal experience

The growing literature on death, grief and memorialisation on Facebook highlights many of the contradictions and complexities around inside and outside, personal and public nature of Facebook. The interesting connections between the papers is the exploration of individual and group experiences over time related to an event. Brubaker, Hayes and Dourish (2013) discuss the phenomenon of social context collapse that occurs on profile pages of the deceased. Context collapse occurs where family, close friends, acquaintances and potentially non-friends can see and contribute to messages of grief. Profile pages of the deceased become something else beyond the individual and become not only a memorial of shared memory for various people but contribute to something of an ad hoc archive.

The motivation to contribute to Facebook memorials can be driven by media reporting, the social status of the person (celebrity for example), entertainment, and even simply to interact in a social space (DeGroot, 2014; Klastrup, 2014; Willis and Ferrucci, 2017). Memorial sites dedicated to stillborn children illuminate the link between a technological space and experiencing the presence of an identity, even if it is a memory or longing for someone (Hayman, Chamberlin and Hopner, 2018). Research around grief highlights how Facebook can reinforce and extend social roles and rituals across time and space, highlighting the need to explore what it means to remember a specific event over time in a seemingly timeless space.

Co-construction of memory-making through shared community identity

Brubaker and Haigh's (2017) study into religious use and experience highlights Facebook as a facilitating tool for personal and community interaction and networking based around shared 'cultural practices, beliefs and experiences' (p. 2). While their paper focusses on religious use of Facebook, their research examines how sharing of beliefs is easier for people who are frequenting online, who have developed online connections, and have nominal social barriers related to sharing their (religious) identity online. The implications of Brubaker and Haigh's research is that the shared identity, such as what might be displayed in a community, is closely tied to what types and how many online activities are performed, as well as the social value it has for individuals who interact and use these spaces.

Korn's (2015) paper on race-based Facebook groups examines group-level rather than individual-level interaction. Korn's research is positioned within the complexity of humanist research and defines culture referencing Martin and Nakayama (1999) as 'interpretive, socially constructed, and open to power struggles, contested meanings, and evolving identifications' (p. 15). Korn's research shows insight into why groups are formed on Facebook, the significance of online representation, and the use of identification practices and classifications so that groups may be found (and joined) highlighting how 'culture, identity, and communication are interconnected (p. 22). A key insight from Korn's work is that both individual agency and communication of a group's identity through its actions, influences self-selection into a group (self-categorisation) (p. 16). Korn also reminds us that while users define what it means to be part of a community, the design of Facebook and in particular its search function (to find groups) and use of keywords can potentially influence the communication of community identity and therefore what and why specific groups are chosen by individuals.

Fragmenting time: from personal and community to networked memory

Richardson and Hessey's (2009) work on social and relational memory highlights the role that Facebook plays as an archive of human relationships (p. 25). The archive is created through its documentation of friendships (in the case of this research project, most friends who friended someone on Facebook were known to the person), but also in recording interactions with friends over time. However, Johnson's (2018) work on Nelson Mandela Facebook memorials from a network perspective challenges the notion of time found in earlier writings referring to shared memories 'fading away' and people interacting with fragments. Even sites as new as 2013 have gone missing or have become something other than their original intention (often spam). Lamenting Facebook's lack of archival tools in order to conduct useful research, Johnson refers to parallel universes where experiences of Facebook often and increasingly differ from one individual to the next as part of a constructed experience by personalised algorithmic systems. In this sense, networked memory is not an archive but rather a constantly reinvented now driven by the need to create new data (and profit) through targeted and selectively consumed information.

Schwarz and Shani (2016) in their study on political defriending, a term that refers to the action of removing a friendship tie on Facebook (also called unfriending) based on political beliefs and in reaction to political online comments and activity (p. 2), discuss how the design of the platform structurally converges private and public or political identities and groups which impacts on and facilitates a return to bounded communities that defend moral boundaries and demand demonstrations of public loyalty. Their research is based on one case, and there is a lot to unpack. In particular, the idea that Facebook although designed as a tool to facilitate free communications and social networks for individuals, as a platform actually enables the power of 'collectivities' of influence. Schwarz and Shani discuss the impact of extended time and space on Facebook where interactions are accessible outside their original contexts that the creators may be subject to 'severe, disproportional punishment' (p. 18). At least two phenomena are being referred to here: virality and online or cyber bullying (Campbell, 2005; Varis and Blommaert, 2015). While virality and cyber bullying are not the topic of this paper, the key takeaway from Schwarz and Shani's research which is a theme throughout the literature review, is the potential of how and why communities act within the Facebook platform, e.g. for the purpose of this research, what decisions are made and what actions are taken related to memory-making. For community memory-making and use of the groups tool as a emergent archival space, questions are raised about how Facebook structures the seeking and finding, as well as the experience of a shared identity and remembering.


Criteria and search strategy

Drawing from the theoretical framework and literature review, the criteria, listed in Table 1, were developed to identify relevant Facebook groups.

Table 1: Criteria for selecting Facebook Groups
Criteria title Criteria description 
1. Creation Is a Facebook Group created by a registered profile?
2. Uses terms of remembrance Features either the terms remember(ing), history, heritage or archive (and archives). Note the scope for this initial discovery process is limited to groups that appear in search results using these terms AND Western Australia.
3. Identity of rememberance Has a clear identity of what is being remembered e.g. temporal, spatial or cultural. Identity is self-defined and not the same as an institution.
4. Shared memory Has members or has the status to allow membership for self-selection into the group. (Public or Closed)
5. Representation Provides some way of representing memory which includes text, images, moving image or other type of document.

To scope the research, the results were limited to groups who had an affiliation with Western Australia. In practice this meant searching terms listed in criteria 2. above plus 'Western Australia'.

Data were collected on 27 February 2019 using the Search Groups function via the author's registered personal Facebook profile. Each criterion was applied in order to identify Groups. While it is possible to ask to join all types of Groups, the author decided only to document the text and other data available without joining. The public/private nature of Facebook and the ethics related to navigating and observing this space is unclear, and is an evolving topic in the research literature (Bos et al., 2009; Bridges, 2018; Zimmer, 2010). In this research project, it is assumed that Facebook groups exist to be discovered. Public groups can be viewed without a Facebook profile. Closed groups do require the user to be logged into Facebook, however, can be found via a regular search. Additionally, given the specific criteria used to search for Groups, even if the results data was de-identified, anyone searching would likely find the same groups.

Issues arose when attempting to limit data collection through search strategies. Firstly, not all Group information was accessible because it may be a public or open Group. While public and closed groups are searchable on Facebook, public groups are those where all content is available to see, including membership (Facebook Help Centre, 2019c). Closed groups limit content by hiding the discussion or post wall and the full membership list is hidden. However, it is possible to see the Group's description, rules and history. The first two are created by the Group administrators so may or may not have information in them. Group description and rules provide useful contexts about the purpose and primary activities in the absence of not seeing discussions or wall posts. Group history is documented by Facebook and can be found on the About page. Facebook use the following text to describe this popup section: 'Group History shows when this group was created, as well as changes to its name. You can use Group History to see whether a group's purpose has changed over time'.

Another issue is the Facebook algorithms that curate an individualised Facebook experience are likely to have an impact on what is being returned in the search results. The author is located in Western Australia, therefore it is highly likely the search results were skewed towards more local results. Additionally, results are also more likely to be heavily biased towards already existing interests and the interests of friends associated and linked to the author's personal page.


Data collected was text-based and included the name of group, when it was created, creator name, administrator(s) names(s), the About section, Group Rules and Description sections which document a Group purpose. Types of activities performed were documented via observation of the Group discussion page or via text written the description sections. This text was then analysed in context with what the Group pages displayed using narrative analysis techniques.

The analysis process utilised thematic and performance narrative analysis techniques that ask questions about how, where, and to whom the story is told, what types of stories are being told, what patterns or features do the stories have, and what larger discourses or narratives are being encountered or communicated (Parcell and Baker, 2017, p. 1070). This style of analysis draws from Polkinghorne's (1995) ideas about identifying a diversity of behaviour plotted across a temporal whole, focusing on events, actions, and happenings. Synthesis of stories comes from a recursive process of seeking out and telling small stories within larger narrative contexts.

While this project does lend itself to interviewing, this stage is more about discovery and possibility. The intention is to try to disengage from the archival mindset and to surface it in a way that is mindful and clear when approaching the second stage of the research.

Facebook Groups for remembering: findings

Table 2 shows unique values of all groups found including Public and Closed. In total, twenty-seven groups were found, fourteen public and thirteen closed. All groups listed met all checklist criteria. The group administrator is the creator of the Group unless otherwise specified.

Table 2: Facebook Groups dedicated to remembering Western Australia
Search terms Results for Groups Create date Admin/Mod Members Status
Remembering Western Australia (Five results in total. One was excluded as it was a Buy and Sell Group. One Group also appeared in the History search and is listed in that section). Remember back in Denmark Western Australia when....... https://www.facebook.com/groups/1107074889431104/ 11 April 2013 4^ 1384 Public
Battersby Family Memories (Western Australia) https://www.facebook.com/groups/battersbyfamilymemories/ 19 Nov 2018 1 22 Closed
Memories of Perth Western Australia
18 May 2013 1 127 Public
History Western Australia
(26 results in total. Four in were excluded as they were either specifically about Western Australia. One of the four was a noticeboard for a theatre tour.)

The History of Nightclubs - Western Australia

5 March 2008 3* 3641 Public
The History of Pinto Horses in Western Australia
7 May 2015 1 117 Public
Waterski History Western Australia
25 Nov 2018 2^ 43 Public
Western Australian Off Road Racing History
14 Nov 2013 1 504 Public
West Australian Motorsport History
1 June 2013 1 351 Closed
Western Australian Hidden History
14 Nov 2013 1 91 Public
Beautiful buildings and cool places Perth has lost - a photo history
17 Sept. 2009 1 1817 Public
History Swan District, Western Australia
5 Aug 2017 1# 548 Public
History in Swan District and history in Western Australia
13 Aug 2017 1# 363 Public
Western Australian Surveying History
3 July 2016 1 7 Closed
History Western Australia
9 Aug 2017 1# 2 Closed
Alaskan Malamutes Of Western Australia - History, Memories & Photo Sharing
9 Jan 2018 0! 20 Closed
History in Swan District, Western Australia
9 Aug 2017 0# 23 Closed
Motorcycle competition history west australia [all surfaces]
14 July 2016 1 27 Closed
History Western Australia
9 Aug 2017 1# 4 Closed
west australia history of tranport [sic] https://www.facebook.com/groups/470604876459326/?ref=br_rs 12 Jan 2016 1 3 Public
Staffordshire Bull Terrier History In Western Australia https://www.facebook.com/groups/178421662190583/?ref=br_rs 8 Jan 2011 0! 4 Closed
Humans of Western Australia Stories https://www.facebook.com/groups/209041949642179/?ref=br_rs 11 Jan 2018 0! 2 Closed
The History of LIVE Music in Western Australia https://www.facebook.com/groups/12989185983/?ref=br_rs 8 March 2008 1* 5 Closed
History in Swan District Western Australia https://www.facebook.com/groups/1953518141587841/ 16 Aug 2017 0! 8 Closed
Yagan Quay (An Identity of Western Australian Cultural History) https://www.facebook.com/groups/391854860850918/?ref=br_rs 29 May 2012 0! 18 Closed
YALDON ARABIANS. over 40 years of West. Australian Arabian History https://www.facebook.com/groups/637005963064807/ 27 July 2014 3+ 161 Public
Heritage Western Australia (All groups found were included) Burnett Family Heritage Western Australia
26 July 2014 1 5 Closed
Scout Heritage Centre, Western Australia group
https://www.facebook.com/groups/184058348815444/?ref=br_rs (Group has since been removed)
16 Nov 2017 1 1 Public
Remember Western Australia  No unique results.        
Archive/archives Western Australia No relevant results.        
^One of the administrators is the creator of the group.
* This group created on the 5 March 2008 was created by one of the administrators. It appears that there may be two profiles that are of the same person (they share the same name) who are administrators. The group created on the 8 March 2008 was created by the same person/profile.
# There is no member associated with creating the group created 5 August 2017. It is likely that the current administrator was not the creator. The person who is admin of group created on 5 August 2017 is the creator and admin of the groups created on 13 August 2017 and the three groups created 9 August 2017. Different profiles, same name, same photos.
! This group has no admin nor any information about a creator.
+ One of the admins of this group is the creator. d

How, where, and to whom is the story told?

In most groups the stories are told on the wall or discussions page of the group. Public groups are the only ones where discussion content can be seen. One group (Waterski History) has a page about a significant person in the community linked to it. In some groups, members are clearly posting to the wall but in others it is just the administrator and/or creator posting with members commenting (e.g. Beautiful buildings and cool places).

The Facebook platform dictates how much of the wall can be seen but there are several other markers that tell stories about the nature of the group including:

Figure 1: Facebook activity information displayed about a closed Group

What types of stories are being told?

This analysis is not about the subject or topic but rather the scoping of the group itself. Were the Facebook groups created and intended to remember a place, person, event or a shared interest? While all the groups showed a spatial link to Western Australia, which was expected due to the scope, other identities showed various attributes as listed in Table 3. It is important to note that these Facebook groups fitted into various identity collectivities. A lack of information and access to closed groups meant it was not always possible to make a judgement about the community and how its identity was formed.

Table 3: Community identity collectivities found in Facebook Groups
Community identity collectivities Examples
Before now temporal
  • Remember back in Denmark group and the purpose of the group as 'Down memory lane'.
Continuing temporal
  • The History of Pinto Horses group asks for “Past & Present” photos to be shared.
    The Motorsport History group refers to recording “current history”
  • Waterski History simply refers to adding memories rather than any specific idea of when a memory might have occurred.
Mixed temporal
  • The History of LIVE Music is also a group that refers to past entities but also their current practice 'are still rockin' in the west!'
  • The History of Nightclubs refers to it being a 'retrospective' but documents current names and previous names. However, it is unclear if the current names are actually current in 2019. 
Pre-existing bounded community
  • The Battersby Family and Burnett Family groups are not only pre-existing but bounded communities. Families grow but the Battersby family group is very clear on the identity boundaries of the group referring to a key family figure.
  • The Motorsport History group is an actual closed group but also refers to “our” history implying that the members exist and know each other outside Facebook.
  • The Scout Heritage Centre is actually an entity or place dedicated to Western Australian Scouting history. See http://scoutswa.com.au/scoutheritagecentre
Fabricated bounded community
  • The Beautiful buildings and cool places Perth and Memories of Perth are not likely to have existed before the creation of the Facebook group.
  • The History Western Australia and Swan District groups, of which there are several, and all have some relationship to one person are all based around a locality.
Social activities
  • Motorsport and Waterski groups.
Cultural identity
  • Yagan Quay (An Identity of Western Australian Cultural History). This group is closed and does not have any description available. However, just by the title the group incorporates a reference to Noongar history and resistance to colonisation (South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council, 2019).
  • Western Australian Hidden History is about Western Australian Indigenous Peoples history, and actions performed by colonisers. The group is not clearly affiliated with a specific cultural identity, such as Noongar but has a specific purpose.
Exposing the past. These kinds of groups are activist groups but not always, however their primary function is to uncover something.
  • Western Australian Hidden History and The beautiful buildings and cool places Perth.

What patterns or features do the stories have?

Where activities were able to be discerned (in the description and in the group itself because it is public and content is seen) they generally fall into the following types:

Some groups were very keen to make sure that photos would include information such as names, breed history, brief description, dates, places etc. Several groups mention specifically to include stories and at least one refers to 'historical accuracy' (Battersby Family) when sharing content. Some groups are just after images with brief descriptions rather than stories.

These activities do show a patterning around how stories are told, particularly when represented within Facebook technologies. Choices about how to represent a group identity and memory are generally limited to content such as text, photos, videos that must be entered and are presented according to the group site functionality. Photos and videos can be browsed using menu links as shown in Figure 2.

What larger discourses or narratives being encountered or communicated?

In this analysis the framework comes from Upward's interpretation of Giddens's structuration theory and how systems shape through power (1996, 1997). From this perspective, the platform itself has power over community memory-making and in particular, the storage of memory. While individuals can download an 'archive' of their profile, this functionality is not possible in groups. Facebook also wields power over the construction of groups, what they can share and how, and everything that is captured and shared is part of a network of data, documented and managed by Facebook for the purpose of its own sustainability (and profit).

Figure 2: Browsing features of Facebook Groups

From the perspective of the communities, the technology offers a network and space for recording and even shaping memory over time. Without the space, some of these groups would not exist. The collapse of time and space in conjunction with the power wielded by Facebook itself, means that stories are being created, as well as forgotten and lost all the time. That individuals can link into the network presents power and value in itself. Some people create new groups about the same thing over and over until they get it right, or until they find another group they can be part of that suits their purposes. There is a story being told here about control over memory and identity within the group space with so many of them being created and administrated by a single person. However, this idea would need more data to explore in depth.

Discussion and conclusion

From a constructivist point of view, as espoused in Halbwachs's (1992) work on cultural memory as a process of bringing the past into the present and by doing so, developing a system to value preservation (or remembrance) of memory, collective memory can only manifest in individual remembering. It is individuals who create, document and see value in the construction, archiving and preservation of community memory. Facebook Groups, while they have not been around for very long (in archival terms), provide insight into the various purposes and values that people exhibit when creating, managing and even abandoning these spaces.

The types of community identity collectivities shown in Table 2 generally align with Gilliland's (2012) Voice, Identity, Activism (VIA) community archives identities of 'grass-roots, identity-, issue- and experience-based, and social justice-oriented communities' (p. 3). The Voice, Identity, Activism framework documents motivations, community and documentation characteristics and has described examples of these making the framework very comprehensive and heavily people focussed but it only briefly mentions the role and impact of technologies on community memory-making. While Gilliland mentions the need for critical awareness around how technologies are deployed, it is the mediating role technologies play, as shown in this Facebook Group research that needs attention.

Acker and Brubaker's (2014) research highlights the failings of the Facebook platform to be effective as archives for individuals and institutions, regardless of personal or institutional intention. From this research however it is clear that Facebook groups have some value for individuals as they are used to document an identity to share with others, as shown in Brubaker and Haigh's (2017) study into personal and community interaction for religious use. People are joining groups and some of the groups have been running for eleven years. People who choose to create memories for future retrieval using Facebook groups are building emergent archival spaces. There is a sense that something is being preserved by the intention and stories being told by the description and actions. The archival nature of the space is not about permanence or enduring qualities but more concerned with constructing a space for documenting and sharing identity and memory over time (however long that is). Yet, while time can be 'however long', what is missing from the data and analysis in this project is any concrete notion of time.

The oldest group in the collected data was created in 2008, has 3,624 current members and shows six posts in the last thirty days (The History of Nightclubs - Western Australia). The person who created the group also created another one with a similar theme just a few days later in 2008 that currently has five members and no activity in the last thirty days (The History of LIVE Music in Western Australia). Yet both groups still exist and the creator still manages them by being associated with them by remaining as administrator. There is some connection between personal and community memory-making potentially related to ownership of identity and ensuring information is available over time. Nevertheless, the two groups created by the same user are not connected to each other. The findings show that the connection between the two groups can only be made via the group creator's personal profile. Access to linked memory is limited by the system but also enabled by it through promotion of suggested content related to the existing groups. Context collapse, as described by Brubaker, Hayes and Dourish (2013), doesn't seem to occur across already shared spaces meaning that group affiliations only exist from individual to group, not group to group. Where memorialisation and acts of grief enable profiles of the deceased to be socially extended beyond the individual and transform into a space for shared memory, Facebook groups exist in isolation, drawing in people as members, rather than extending shared memory.

Control is also embedded in how Facebook groups are formed and controlled by users. While a small sample, the creator or founder of a group is the person who controls the process of framing (they choose Facebook groups in the first place), what is documented (through descriptions and as the administrator) and who can join and be part of the shared identity. Joining public groups even requires approval from the administrator. Specific groups are difficult to search for using the Facebook search functionality meaning that how people become part of these groups is unclear.

Korn's (2015) research into motivation, representation, and the use of identity to enable clear discovery of groups is not clearly demonstrated in this research. The contexts are different, but Korn's research also looked at search results and used similar searching techniques but rather than finding that groups show how 'culture, identity, and communication are interconnected' (p. 22) this research shows more of Richardson and Hessey's (2009) fragmentation with the network and Schwarz and Shani's (2016) insights into how power is manifest in the technology. The stories being told by the existence of Facebook groups dedicated to remembering ultimately were shown to be really structured by the platform or technology. In this sense, Facebook Groups, although they might be administered by multiple entities, are still created by a single profile (documented and communicated by Facebook) and are more extensions of individual or personal memory-making than shared memory.

Fragmented memories do not allow or provide a sense of how long people expect the groups to exist or what role they might play over time. This connects to Richardson and Hessey's (2009) research into social and relational memory but rather than performing the role of an archive of human relationships (p. 25), Facebook demonstrates its control and power over memory. Facebook suggests other groups on the side bar when viewing these groups which might also be of interest. When viewing the The History of Nightclubs - Western Australia, two similar groups created by different people were suggested:

LOST PERTH ALTERNATIVE BANDS 1976/1989 created in 2013. https://www.facebook.com/groups/626307704058413/?ref=gysj
James Street Night Club - Revisited ... Man we had some FUN! created in 2008. https://www.facebook.com/groups/JamesStreetNightClub/

The implication is that there are potentially many more pieces that remain disconnected and the greater narrative of shared community memory about, for example, Perth entertainment history, continues on being fragmented.

Acker and Brubaker (2014) explain the need for archivists to learn more about 'interpersonal networked archives' (p. 22) so as to learn how to build better personal archives, incorporating various technologies used by individuals. Acker and Brubaker are referring to personal profiles however this research highlights the deeply problematic nature of commercial platforms used for personal and community memory-making. Facebook controls what fragments are visible in the network. The connections between personal and community memory-making, as well as shared identity and memory are tenuous within these platforms. Yet, they exist, and people continue to create Facebook groups for the purpose of remembering, as shown by the data. So what next?

Sheffield (2018), in her discussion of Facebook Live (a video streaming and recording feature that can be used in groups and/or profiles), makes a distinction between recordmaking and recordkeeping. The distinction for Sheffield is that Facebook Live documents, even if recorded, 'are rarely systematically created, used, or maintained beyond their initial purpose to communicate to a public about a particular series of actions unfolding in real time' (p. 101). To Sheffield, the simple act of making a record does not necessarily constitute recordkeeping, which is more to do with ensuring records created 'are authentic and reliable, have integrity, and are useable in the present and a potential future state' (p. 101). Abandoned, closed Facebook groups with barely any members do represent the lack of systematic actions to ensure preservation over time. However, they also represent memory-making and the intent to archive. Abandoned groups play an equally important role in how to understand the technology, the initial intention, and the people who created the groups as they do in relation to the posted content and its continued activity. Yet, whose responsibility is it to manage groups as traces or memories of archivalisation? Facebooks? Users? Archivists?

In the archival literature, individuals are often described as founders who record, collect, create and often sustain community archives (Caswell, 2014; Flinn, Stevens and Shepherd, 2009; Newman, 2012 ; Stevens, Flinn and Shepherd, 2010; Zavala, Migoni, Caswell, Geracia & Cifor, 2017). In the case of Facebook Groups, the creator is the entity who maintains, although not always collects, creates and sustains. The creator is not always the one who manages and administers a Group. The stories being told about personal and community memory-making by the existence of emergent community archives using Facebook groups exist at multiple levels of meaning. Remembering and memory-making in these emergent spaces exists through internal and external, self and community, individual and collective, as well as personal and corporate actions. The actions of creation, management, seeking, joining and finding emergent community archives however are mediated and controlled through the platform.

Acker and Brubaker (2014) and Sinn and Synn (2014) propose that Facebook content should be incorporated into or supported by institutional archives. This research highlights that archiving is not as simple as downloading a Facebook archive and preserving it in a digital repository. Furthermore, this research shows that there are multiple complex contexts that lead people to document themselves within social media. Cook refers to community archives as spaces for professional archivists to learn about other ways of understanding the purpose and value of archives from multiple perspectives. This research seeks to open up opportunities for exchange of information between those creating emergent community archives and archivists. To explore the archival mindset the next stage of the research will ask what are the requirements for people to create shared memory-making spaces using social technologies. Is control important? Are connections to social media such as Facebook important? Are what people doing in Facebook groups really about trying to preserve, connect and share identity and memory or is it something else?


This research was supported by a Curtin University School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry Small Research Grant.

About the author

Leisa Gibbons is a Lecturer in the Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia. Leisa received her Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Fine Art History from The University of Western Australia, Masters in Information Management and Systems from Monash University in Melbourne, and PhD also from Monash University. Leisa has worked in higher education in Australia and the US specialising in archives and recordkeeping. Her research explores personal and community memory documented in social media. Contact Leisa at leisa.gibbons@curtin.edu.au


How to cite this paper

Gibbons, L. (2019). Connecting personal and community memory-making: Facebook Groups as emergent community archives. In Proceedings of RAILS - Research Applications Information and Library Studies, 2018, Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University, 28-30 November 2018. Information Research, 24(3), paper rails1804. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/24-3/rails/rails1804.html (Archived by the Internet Archive at https://web.archive.org/web/20190818103957/http://informationr.net/ir/24-3/rails/rails1804.html)

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