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The Power of Preservation: How the Internet Archive Empowers Digital Investigations and Research

A part of a series: The Internet Archive as Research Library

Written by Caralee Adams

When gathering evidence for a court case or researching human rights violations, Lili Siri Spira often found that the material she needed was preserved by the Internet Archive.

Spira is the Social Media and Campaign Marketing Manager for TechEquity Collaborative, as well as the co-manager of, a platform that promotes psycho-social resilience for digital activists. She has interned at the Center for Justice & Accountability and was an open-source investigator at the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley during college.

In Spira’s work, the Wayback Machine has played an integral role in providing stamped artifacts and metadata.

For example, when researching the Bolivian coup in 2019, she wanted to learn more about the sentiment of indigenous people toward political leadership. Spira used the Wayback Machine to examine how indigenous Bolivian websites had changed since 2009. She discovered after initial criticism, some websites seemed to have disappeared.

“The great thing about the Internet Archive is that it really protects the chain of custody,” Spira said. “It’s not only that you look back, but you can even find a website now and capture it in time with the metadata.”

In 2020, The Berkeley Protocol on Digital Open Source Violations provided global guidelines for using public digital information as evidence in international criminal and human rights investigations. Spira said this allows preserved website data to be used in court proceedings to hold parties accountable.

On other occasions, Spira has investigated companies suspected of unethical practices. Sometimes executives openly admitted to certain behaviors, only to later deny their action. Companies may attempt to erase past communication, but Spira said she can uncover the previous versions of websites through the Wayback Machine.

“Our knowledge is not being held sacred by many people in this country and around the world,” Spira said. “It’s incredibly important for research work in any field to have access to preserved [digital] information—especially when that research is making certain allegations against powerful entities and corporations.”

We thank Lili and her colleagues for sharing their story for how they use the Internet Archive’s collections in their work.

Preserving Memory by Moonlight, Ensuring Access by Daylight

I made my first digital archive on a Windows PC in my parents’ bedroom.

I was a young fan of the Japanese anime Sailor Moon. My introduction to the show was through the English dubbed version that aired on Cartoon Network and an elementary school friend who supplied me with her copies of the translated manga. When I learned there was a dedicated online community with an extensive network of fan-made websites, filled with page after page of images, gifs and content I had never seen, my life changed.

I’d spend hours after school scouring fan-made Sailor Moon websites – not because there were that many I actually knew of, but because the image-heavy pages took several minutes to load. I quickly learned how to save files to my parent’s computer and began pasting downloaded images into a Microsoft Paint file. I didn’t know anything about building or publishing a website, and my computer skills were limited as a kid experiencing computers and the internet for the first time. All I knew was Internet Explorer, MS Paint, and Solitaire.

I’m not really sure why I felt compelled to download anything I found on the internet instead of just revisiting websites when I wanted to. Perhaps I didn’t want to spend another ten minutes waiting for the pages to load again. But in my child mind, I probably also saw saving an image as making it more tangible, that the files somehow belonged to me now. And, in a way, they did – I could edit, cut, paste, and print them out as much as my parents’ printer ink budget would allow. As long as I remembered to save the images, I didn’t have to worry about them disappearing one day.

As an adult, I place more importance on preserving digital media and memories. I admit I’ve always had a hard time letting things go—I’ve saved almost every handwritten letter and birthday card I’ve been given in my life. But what about the life and memories we make online? What about old computers, hard drives, cell phones, and social media accounts filled with personal photos and messages from lost and distant loved ones? These are memories that aren’t easily or obviously preserved.

Though my childhood computer is probably long gone, along with my digital collection of saved Sailor Scouts, I realize some 20 years later how vital, and fragile, digital memory is. With the eventual closure of websites like GeoCities, Angelfire, MySpace, and so many more, most of my earliest memories of the internet would be erased if it weren’t for the Internet Archive. Even as a child, I realized that digital memory is even more ephemeral than the physical media of previous generations.

As a member of a generation that grew up online, I am thankful that a large part of my digital memory doesn’t have to disappear forever. This is what drew me to the Internet Archive, and compelled me to support fundraising efforts to ensure a sustainable future for projects like the Wayback Machine, GifCities, and so much more. If you also find value in preserving digital memory and making it accessible for future generations, I hope you’ll consider donating to support our work before our year-end fundraising campaign comes to a close. Your matched donation will go a long way toward keeping our collections online for years to come.

Christina Humphreys joined the philanthropy team at the Internet Archive in 2021. Her interest in early internet art and aesthetics brought her to the Internet Archive, where many now defunct websites have been saved through the Wayback Machine. Along with reliving the internet of her childhood, she loves exploring the various collections of art, film, and books preserved on She views the Internet Archive as a vital cultural resource, creating an accessible future for information and materials that would otherwise be locked away in a vault or lost to history.

GIFs sourced from:

“Have you played Atari today?”

Guest post by Kay Savetz, professional web publisher and amateur Atari historian

For years I hunted for the answer to the question: who wrote the adverting tagline “Have you played Atari today?” Atari started using it in print advertisements on April 1, 1982. Soon after, the words were sung in a jingle in many Atari TV commercials. As an Atari historian, the question plagued me: who wrote those words?

The first newspaper advertisement featuring the famous phrase: April 1st, 1982.

My computer historian colleagues didn’t know. I asked Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari. He thought it might have come from their ad agency at the time, Doyle Dane Bernbach. But when both a colleague and I separately reached out to DDB, we hit dead ends. I searched Internet Archive, commercial newspaper archives, and library collections, all in vain.

In 2021 I created a script called TIARA — The Internet Archive Research Assistant — which searches Internet Archive every day for newly uploaded items that match my selected words and phrases. (You can get the script free from It diligently searched for “Have you played Atari today?” daily, with no hint to the answer to my question.

Until June 2022 — when there was a hit. A book called “Graphis New Talent Annual 2016” had been scanned just the day before by Internet Archive’s scanning center in the Philippines. The book was available for immediate online borrowing. I checked it out for an hour, and had the answer I needed in just a minute. There on page 7 is a bio for Robert Wain Mackall, which says that he wrote the “Have you played Atari today?” tagline while working at Doyle Dane Bernbach.

Finally, there was my answer! Internet Archive’s relentless scanning of books, its lending library, its full-text search capability, and my little TIARA script delivered a fact that I had been seeking for years.

—Kay Savetz

What are some things you’re exploring on the Internet Archive? Tell us in the comments!