Platforms, Community Archives and Remembering the Pandemic

Published on June 9th, 2020

Written by Amelia Acker

For the past two years, I’ve been researching platforms’ digital preservation strategies and studying how platforms like Facebook, iOS, and Android preserve information and provide access to users’ data. As part of this ongoing research, I have been following emerging ways that people create archives and commemorate the past using platforms like Twitter, Instagram, even Google Drive. Increasingly, we see community archive projects completely organized and built with platforms because of their ease of use and the possibilities of network reach. For example, instead of having a separate digital repository, the ATX Barrio Archive celebrates Austin’s black and brown neighborhoods and reaches community members using Instagram to share digitized photographs and documents.1

Figure 1. Some community archives like the ATX Barrio Archive engage members solely through platforms like Instagram with their collections.

Community archives are understood as non-traditional collections made by a group of people who are not well documented (or documented at all) by traditional cultural heritage institutions like archives and museums. As people have adopted new digital technologies, from digital cameras to email listservs and Facebook groups, community archives have become more digital, some are entirely accessed on platforms like the ATX Barrio Archive. Many archival scholars and media studies researchers have examined the challenges that communities face when establishing digital community archives that reflect their values, support their needs, and protect their knowledge.2 As community archive organizations have transitioned to born-digital records and online communication for access they increasingly use platforms to capture documentation from social media activity, to circulate information resources, and even to collaborate on writing projects.3

Figure 2. Tweet from journalist Jady Liu sharing link to Coronavirus community archives in February 2020.

Since February, my research team has been following the ways platforms like Twitter and GitHub are being used to share documents, narratives, and data about people’s experience of the coronavirus pandemic. A number of community archive projects organized by Chinese citizens have emerged, attempting to preserve news stories, personal narratives, and first-hand accounts of the novel coronavirus outbreak before they are removed from the Internet (Figure 2). Using GitHub, a US-based platform that allows teams to collaborate, groups of Chinese volunteers have started repositories (known as “repos”) to create collections of documents, solicit contributions, and coordinate the translation of these first-hand accounts and initially, to evade state censorship efforts at blocking citizens’ accounts of the pandemic from spreading online.

One COVID-19 community archive project “/nCovMemory,” in particular illustrates coordination and tactics that community archivists use to confront challenges like Internet censorship in China while using platform features for collaboration and managing documentation. According to /nCovMemory repo’s description, the archive began collecting accounts in January.4 Shortly after the first /nCovMemory repo was created the account’s owner, Memoryhonest created another repo entitled, /nCovMemory-en featuring English translations of the same articles published in the Chinese /nCovMemory repo.5 These community archivists call themselves the Chengji Translation team, a small group of volunteers committed to remembrance through authentic documentation (Figure 3). From January to February 2020, the Chengji Translation Team posted English translations of first-hand reports from the /nCovMemory repo and published them to the /nCovMemory-en repo. 

Figure 3. From the about section of the /nCovMemory-en repo, the Chengji Translation Team collectively describes their commitments to documentation, remembrance, and authenticity.

US-based journalists interviewed the creators of the /nCovMemory GitHub repository and reported that a team of 7 volunteers had been archiving media reports, as well as non-fiction works, and personal narratives that conflicted with Chinese state media reports of the pandemic on the ground.6 But eventually the first-hand accounts and articles in Chinese as well as the English translations stopped being published to the GitHub repos. In April, the Chinese repo /nCovMemory began to display a 404 page according to archived webcrawls of the website from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.7

In Spring it was reported that organizers of similar COVID-19 community archives using GitHub were becoming targets of a Chinese government crackdown censoring accounts of the pandemic.8 Some Chinese GitHub repo creators were arrested and put under house arrest, others appear to still be missing.9 The /nCovMemory-en English translation GitHub repo is still publicly available online, the Chinese language repo nCovMemory has been taken down or gone private.10 But before the Memoryhonest account went quiet and took down public access to the /nCovMemory, both the Chinese and English repos were downloaded and republished as cloned repos by other GitHub users (Figure 4). Such clones of the original /nCovMemory community archive allow those interested to continue to “browse [their] archives here,” but also in different copied repos, including clones that have now been published outside of GitHub.

Figure 4. “Browse our archives here” An example of a cloned repository of nCovMemory-en, a community archive of English translations related to COVID-19 reports.

Platforms like GitHub promise an easier way to collaborate, host information online (like code and documents) and share access to projects. We see many of the GitHub features that support collaboration are used in innovative ways, from taking a repo private to protect volunteers, to cloning or forking a parent repository to make public copies for access—these tactics can outmaneuver China’s Great Firewall of censoring speech, at least for a while. These Chinese community archive repos (and their clones) documenting personal COVID-19 experiences surface ideological differences between US-based platforms, the Chinese government’s Internet censorship efforts, and the desire of communities to document and share their personal experiences of the pandemic. For scholars concerned with power, access to knowledge, self-determination efforts through commemoration, what can we learn from how these community archives of personal COVID-19 experiences use platforms like GitHub?

Whether it’s been removed or gone private, the 404 of /nCovMemory repo shows there are conflicting values of access, commemoration, and control over first-hand accounts of the coronavirus pandemic. Information science and STS scholars have examined the epistemic tensions that platforms represent when they are used as infrastructures to preserve heritage, document evidence, or to commemorate people we’ve lost.11 By specifically examining platform developments where data stewardship and digital preservation strategies are enacted by users and developers, we can more fully understand the impact of the platformization on our digital cultural memory and the future of archives.12


Amelia Acker is an assistant professor in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin where she also serves as the director of the Critical Data Studies Lab. Amelia teaches courses in information science, metadata, digital preservation and data studies. She is currently researching platform development, software emulation, preservation infrastructures and data archives. Before joining UT, Amelia worked as an archivist and librarian in Los Angeles, California. For more information about her research and teaching, visit:

Acknowledgements :

I would like to thank my graduate student, Zed Yuan for sharing the nCovMemory community archive to my attention and to my research assistant, Lucy Flamm for her support in collecting resources and synthesis. I would also like to thank Daniel Greene, Ed Summers, and Nick Proferes for their earlier comments on studying GitHub community archives. This research has been generously supported by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, grant number RE-07-18-0008-18.


  1. “ATX Barrio Archive (@atx_barrio_archive),” Instagram, Instagram, June 6, 2020,
  2. Diana K. Wakimoto, Christine Bruce, and Helen Partridge, “Archivist as Activist: Lessons from Three Queer Community Archives in California,” Archival Science 13, no. 4 (December 1, 2013): 293–316,; Jessa Lingel and Danah Boyd, “‘Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe’: Information Poverty, Information Norms, and Stigma,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 64, no. 5 (2013): 981–91,; Michelle Caswell, Marika Cifor, and Mario H. Ramirez, “‘To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing’: Uncovering the Impact of Community Archives,” The American Archivist 79, no. 1 (June 1, 2016): 56–81,
  3. Anthony Cocciolo, “Community Archives in the Digital Era: A Case from the LGBT Community,” Preservation, Digital Technology & Culture (PDT&C) 45, no. 4 (February 3, 2017): 157–65,
  4. Internet Archive, “Wayback Machine, Web Crawls of https://Github.Com/2019ncovmemory/NCovMemory,” Wayback Machine, June 8, 2020,*/
  5. Memoryhonest, “Memoryhonest/NCovMemory-En,” GitHub, February 24, 2020,
  6. Jane Li, “Chinese Citizens Are Racing against Censors to Preserve Coronavirus Memories on GitHub,” Quartz, March 2, 2020,
  7. Internet Archive, “Wayback Machine, Web Crawls of https://Github.Com/2019ncovmemory/NCovMemory,” Wayback Machine, accessed June 8, 2020,*/
  8. Jane Li, “Chinese Citizens Are Racing against Censors to Preserve Coronavirus Memories on GitHub,” Quartz, March 2, 2020,
  9. Phoebe Zhang, “Chinese Activists Detained after Sharing Censored Coronavirus Material on Crowdsourcing Site Github | South China Morning Post,” South China Morning Post, April 25, 2020,
  10. Jane Li, “Chinese Internet Users Who Uploaded Coronavirus Memories to GitHub Have Been Arrested,” Quartz, April 27, 2020,
  11. Tonia Sutherland, “Making a Killing: On Race, Ritual, and (Re)Membering in Digital Culture,” Preservation, Digital Technology & Culture 46, no. 1 (2017): 32–40,; Anna Veronica Banchik, “Disappearing Acts: Content Moderation and Emergent Practices to Preserve at-Risk Human Rights–Related Content,” New Media & Society, March 30, 2020, 1461444820912724,
  12. Anne Helmond, “The Platformization of the Web: Making Web Data Platform Ready,” Social Media + Society 1, no. 2 (September 30, 2015),