Updated January 22, 2016: The Political TV Ad Archive is now live.
The Internet Archive has already been documenting the evolution of the Web for two decades, and now it’s teaming up with a handful of media organizations to launch a project specifically designed to preserve — and enable scrutiny of — political TV ads.
Launching on January 22 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the aptly titled Political TV Ad Archive represents a partnership between the Internet Archive and the National Press Club Journalism Institute, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact, the Center for Public Integrity, and more. It’s also supported by the Knight News Challenge, an initiative of the Knight Foundation.
Founded in 1996, the Internet Archive has emerged as a key tool for millions of people wishing to revisit the Internet of yore, including journalists seeking to check web pages that may have been edited. The Internet Archive takes snapshots of nearly every website at intermittent periods, serving as a public record of how the Internet is changing. The not-for-profit also hosts a slew of books, movies, TV broadcasts, software, and music, among other content.
Its new online resource will host federal-level political ads that have appeared in primary states in the buildup to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and alongside these ads will be information on key organizations that have funded the ads, as well as fact-checking tools to establish the veracity of claims that have been made.
The ultimate goal of the project is to help reporters check things that politicians say and reveal “which ads contain the most egregious truth stretching or full-on lies,” according to Nancy Watzman, the Internet Archive’s managing editor of the TV Archive.
One of the core problems, according to Watzman, is that local TV stations are frequently used to air political ads, yet these same stations provide little extensive reporting. So, in effect, the ads are used as propaganda tools, presented with little to no scrutiny. “The new Political TV Ad Archive will help reporters stop the spin cycle by providing contextual data and information to evaluate ads,” said Watzman.
The new archive project is using “experimental audio fingerprint technology” to track TV in 20 markets across eight states, and will cover the likes of Sioux City, Des Moines, and Cedar Rapids in Iowa. Journalists will be able to embed videos of the ads and download relevant data, such as the date the ad aired and who sponsored it.
The launch of the Political TV Ad Archive comes at a time when people are increasingly skeptical of what they see and read online, but also at a time when many politicians are keen to distance themselves from things that they’ve said in the past.
Indeed, back in August, Twitter effectively killed a third-party service that archived politicians’ deleted tweets. Politwoops, a product of “digital transparency” organization Open State Foundation, had emerged as a key tool for journalists and political opponents looking to dig up dirt on politicians. The thinking is that if a politician deletes a tweet, there must be a good reason — though many of the deleted messages were simply dull. Twitter reversed its decision back in December after facing significant criticism. The European version is live once more, but we’re still waiting for the U.S. incarnation to resurface.
The Political TV Ad Archive should prove a useful tool, alongside Politwoops, and it will be interesting to see whether journalists rise to the challenge and use the new resource at their disposal. The Internet Archive tells VentureBeat that although the project is limited to the primary states for now, it does hope to continue beyond.