Fake News Creates Fake History: Why We Archive the Web

Preserving and archiving the internet will have tremendous impact on the way future generations experience our world.

For many, internet browsing in the 1990 to the early 2000’s came with a belief that, if it was published on the internet, it must be true. While this belief has since faded away, there are still those who carry the belief that if it is on the internet, it will stay on the internet. In actuality, what is on the internet today could easily be gone tomorrow. You may find that the information you are looking at is no longer available by the time you pour your second cup of coffee.

The World Wide Web is an intrinsically ephemeral being. In a world where a 24-hour news cycle has been reduced to minutes with information spreading and sharing moving faster than ever before, web pages are constantly being updated; information is removed, changed or altered so the readers and visitors of the site can begin absorbing and sharing the next wave of information. This fast paced, ever-changing exchange of materials can leave a gaping hole in internet history and in the documentation of materials published on the internet.

It is important to recognize that the internet of today will be crucial in giving future researchers and historians a glimpse into our present, an understanding of what the world looked like, how the political atmosphere impacted society, what daily life included, how people behaved and how civilization operated. As information is deleted or removed from the internet, a significant part of history and future research goes along with it.

The practice of archiving the web preserves the internet and the content being produced and erased every day. In preserving our digital heritage, web archiving is the process of gathering, preserving and creating open access to the historical information published online, ensuring the materials will live on and long beyond their transitory purposes.

In celebration of 20 years of the Israeli internet and in recognition of the critical importance of web archiving, The National Library of Israel and the Open Media and Information Lab (OMILab) at the Open University of Israel, organized an international conference on “Web Archiving: Best Practices for Digital Cultural Heritage,” in April 2018. The conference brought together leading researchers and practitioners in the field of web archiving and web historical research from the United States, France, United Kingdom, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Israel.

Prof. Niels Brügger from Aarhus University, Denmark explained that web archiving, a form of deliberate collecting and preserving of web material, is critical to conserving our digital heritage. “Without that preservation internet materials are doomed to disappear,” he said.

“The online web is not an archive,” explained Brügger. “It is volatile, subject to deletions and changes at an unprecedented pace compared to other media types.”

Brügger suggested that the maximum lifespan of the average webpage is about a year – and once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. The importance of archiving the web is significant – without it, the internet would have no memory.

Prof. Niels Brügger. Photo: Hanan Cohen

Social Media: Our personal web archives

Web archiving has also begun to play an important sociological role in preserving the personal history of the everyday person. The internet has become a gold mine of memories – of family photos, personal narratives and videos of special moments.

With the rise of social media, people are sharing and uploading more information about themselves, their families and their friends than ever before. By sharing statuses or tweets, we provide a synopsis of our day-to-day lives. By sharing images and videos, we give a primary look at our personal experiences and present a picture of what our greater world looks like. This wealth of valuable data is uploaded by users to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sources – data that could be invaluable to future generations.

“Social media makes preserving and archiving the internet more challenging but it also makes it even more important because what humans are sharing is inherently ephemeral,” explained Mark Graham, Director of the Wayback Machine, a digital time machine in which over 20 years of internet archives are accessible.

“This information that people are sharing has real time value that emphasizes the ephemerality of the internet, replacing longer-term and more physical objects like books and magazines,” he explained.

Mark Graham. Photo: Hanan Cohen

How do we choose what to preserve?

Web archiving is accomplished with the use of web crawlers that comb the web, gathering information in real time. The material is then stored in its (sometime fragmented) HTML form. The vast expanse of the internet makes it difficult to conceptualize what it would take to preserve all of the information on the web. The ethical question presents itself – what should be stored and what should be prioritized in the current expanse of the internet? What should be preserved and how do we ensure that what is being digitized is real information and not “fake news?”

For experts like Brügger and Graham, the answer is simple: digitizing everything – or as much as possible. Nothing should be left behind.

According to Brügger, “The archiving of web material is collecting what should be preserved – whether it was real or fake-if it was online, it should be preserved.”

Fake news is a part of our reality. It existed on the internet and therefore it should be preserved for future generations to study and understand. If we succeed in archiving as much as possible, the fake news will fall by the wayside in real time context.

“Just as we can’t stop people from producing fake news, we cannot expect to protect the internet archive from fake news,” Graham explained. “What we can do is use sunlight as a disinfectant. We can help people differentiate fake news from real news within the greater context.

“We need build tools to allow people to evaluate the information more easily and to allow them to make smart and educated decisions. The longer-term work needs to be done through education to give people what they need to exercise good judgement,” said Graham.

The ultimate goal of web archiving

The objective, and ultimately the most difficult challenge of archiving the web, is to find a way to open the archive to researchers and to the public at large, noted Oren Weinberg, the Director General of the National Library of Israel (NLI).

“The National Library of Israel serves as the collective memory of the Jewish people…the web is the history of tomorrow so we need to take it upon ourselves to preserve it for generations to come.”

In archiving the web, we can retain and appreciate an entire generation’s way of thinking and existence. Without these efforts, we lose that piece of history – the art, the photos, the videos, and the overall experiences of the human collective. By archiving the web, by looking at the past and recognizing its significance, we open the door to societal progress and a greater historical appreciation.

The Israeli Declaration of Independence as You’ve Never Seen It Before

Arthur Szyk's magnificent artwork on the Declaration of Independence highlights the deep, meaningful connection between the new Jewish state and the ancient Jewish past.

On May 22, 1948, Jewish-Polish artist Arthur Szyk finally received his long awaited American citizenship. He loved and cherished his adoptive country. America had spared Szyk the horrors of the Second World War. It was where he established himself as a well-known artist with a passion to combat the fascist, Nazi ideologies that destroyed Europe. Yet for Szyk, the experience of becoming an American was entirely dwarfed by the realization of his ultimate dream that occurred just eight days prior to his receiving his citizenship: The establishment of the State of Israel.

His wife, Julia Szyk, would tell the story of her husband, the famed artist, who burst into tears as he listened to the founding of the Jewish state on the radio.

The Artist Who Refused to Shirk the Burden of History

Arthur Szyk in his home, 1945. Photographer unknown

For as long as he could remember, Arthur Szyk found himself torn between the two opposing forces of history and modernity. From an early age, growing up in a secular Jewish family, Szyk found himself drawn to the stories of the Hebrew Bible. As a teenager, Arthur was sent to Paris by his family who encouraged him to cultivate his craft and to experience the modern art movement in the capital of European culture. It was there that Szyk developed his artistic style that combined his love of comic caricatures and the decorative illustrations of Medieval manuscripts.

At age 20, Szyk returned from Paris to his hometown in Lodz, Poland, and was quickly swept up in the activities of the local Zionist movement. In 1914 Arthur had the opportunity to join a delegation to the Land of Israel and got to see the developing Jewish Yishuv with his own eyes. He was especially taken by the first Hebrew city, the fledgling five-year-old Tel Aviv. When the First World War broke out, Szyk returned to Poland. Szyk lived in Paris and London between the two World Wars and by the time the Second World War was in full force in 1940, he left Europe for good and made his way to the United States.

“The Dangerous Enemies of the Third Reich are to be Shot!” by Arthur Szyk, 1943, New York

When Adolf Hitler initially came to power, Szyk recognized the danger that the dictator posed to the entire world. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Szyk abandoned his personal projects and committed himself to fight with the Allies against the Axis of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Nationalist-Imperial Japan. His caricatures earned him a reputation as a single minded artist, relentless in his pursuit of justice and in following the tumultuous politics of his day. His critics however, labelled him as nothing but a propagandist – an opinion that is still commonly held today.

“We Declare…”

The Declaration of Independence designed by Arthur Szyk

Upon hearing of the establishment of the State of Israel, Arthur Szyk turned to the new Israeli government and requested permission to illustrate the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the  declaration that immigration to Israel was now free and open for the Jewish Diaspora.

A Weeping Farmer Seeds a Field: Image from the Israeli Declaration of Independence Illustrated by Arthur Szyk

As befitting a Jewish Modern artist with a passion for Zionism, Szyk created a series of magnificent images for the declaration scroll. These images included multiple Stars of David, prayers to the Almighty, famous biblical figures including Moses and Aaron, as well as the depictions of more modern characters, including a Jewish farmer planting a field and an IDF soldier bearing a flag in one hand, and rifle in the other.

Defending the Newborn State – “If not me, then who?” – Image from the Israeli Declaration of Independence Illustrated by Arthur Szyk

It is possible that in this project, Arthur Szyk worked to artistically settle the conflict between the traditional position of trusting in God to protect the Jewish people from their enemies and the Zionist declaration that the Jews must stand strong and independent, protecting themselves from their enemies. As the phrase from Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, states, “If not me, then who?”

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Celebrate Israeli Independence in NYC, 1969!

In 1969 photographer Yael Rozen happened to be in New York City just in time for the Israeli Independence Day parade. View the photos from the joyous event in the Big Apple.

The ladies of "Hadassah" marching on Fifth Avenue

Two years after the Six-Day War, when Israel was still euphoric, Fifth Avenue was the place to celebrate the independence of the young Jewish state.

Yael Rozen was in the United States taking a photography course and she captured magical moments of the parade.

Celebrating the liberated Jerusalem
The National Council of Young Israel toiling the land
Young “Revolutionaries” flying the flags of Israel and the United States, both free of the British Empire
Beitar and a Hora circle marching together
The ladies of “Hadassah” marching on Fifth Avenue
Proud to wave the flag

All rights reserved to Yael Rozen.

The Artist Who Forewarned the Dangers of the Nazis

Take a look at the incredible treasures from the archive of the Hungarian-Jewish Artist, Gyula Zilzer.

This 1933 drawing is apparently one of the earliest illustrations of a Nazi concentration camp

The materials in the archive of Hungarian-Jewish born artist Gyula Zilzer were bestowed to the Archives of National Library of Israel in 2002 as part of the estate of Mary Zilzer, the artist’s widow, after she passed away in 2001.

The story of the artist’s life can be traced back through the personal documents, photographs, correspondence, literary works, paintings and illustrations contained within the archive.

Most of the paintings in the archive are lithographs, which, unlike a painting, can exist in more than one original copy. Making duplicates with the lithographic method involves a lot of effort and all duplicates are made by the same artist, using the same stone on which the original image was painted.

"Opium". Lithograph by Gyula Zilzer
“Opium”. Lithograph by Gyula Zilzer

Gyula Zilzer, a descendant of an artisan family, was born in 1898 in Budapest, Hungary. Members of this illustrious family include the Bavarian king’s court painter Antal Zilzer, the sculptor Hajnalka Zilzer, and the modern painter Frigyes Frank.

In his youth, Zilzer had a special interest in machines and spent time working on inventions.

Certificate from the Royal Hungarian Museum of Technology given to Gyula Zilzer concerning absolving a gas engine operator course in 1920
Certificate from the Royal Hungarian Museum of Technology given to Gyula Zilzer concerning absolving a gas engine operator course in 1920

In 1917, together with two of his friends, Trotzer and Mintz, he worked to create a radio controlled torpedo. During the Russian Revolution, the Russian Army gave the three young men access to a factory to build their torpedo model and to produce it for military purposes, but the project was never completed.

The model became a secret German patent and later served as the basis for several technological innovations, including the dial mechanism of telephones and missile control systems developed in other countries.

The artist Gyula Zilzer in his study. Photo by André Kertész
The artist Gyula Zilzer in his study. Photo by André Kertész

As a Jew, Zilzer was prevented from continuing his academic studies in mechanical engineering due to the implementation of Numerus Clausus. In 1919 he fled from Hungarian nationalists to Trieste, Italy. There, while involved in the leadership of a factory that he founded along with his business partners, he began to paint. After displaying much talent, from 1922-1923 Zilzer went to study painting at the school of the famous German painter Hans Hoffman in Munich.

In 1924, after acquiring a Triestian certificate which attested to his status as a Christian, Zilzer returned to Budapest and signed up for the Academy of the Arts. When his Jewish origins were revealed to the academic administration, he was dismissed from the Academy as “untalented.” Despite this humiliation, Zilzer pushed forward and published his collection of lithographs entitled, “Kaleidoskop,” in 1924. This publication was so successful that it enabled him to leave Hungary for good. After leaving Hungary in 1924, he lived in Paris until 1932 where he worked for the French magazine Clarté and the daily newspaper L’Humanité, both of which belonged to the Communist Party. It was during this time that he became friends with the French writer and publicist Henri Barbusse.

From 1929, Zilzer’s works became clearly anti-fascist in nature with several of his pieces focusing in on Hitler and Mussolini. In 1932, in an exhibition in Amsterdam, he presented his “Gaz” album, a collection protesting the use of gas as a form of warfare against the civilian population. That year, following the success of the original installment, the collection was also displayed in the United States.

Zilzer, the socialist artist who suffered at the hands of anti-Semitism from his youth, expressed his political and general worldview through his paintings. He was an artist ahead of his time, presenting the horrors of the First World War in the 1920s. When he published the collections “Kaleidoskop” and “Gaz” in 1924 and 1932 respectively, he hoped they would forewarn of a future war that the fascist authorities may inspire. Additionally, his paintings criticized the cruelty of the National Socialist Party, as portrayed in his drawings of concentration camps from the early 1930s.

The cover drawing of the album "Kaleidoskop" by Gyla Zilzer, 1924
The cover drawing of the album “Kaleidoskop” by Gyla Zilzer, 1924


One of the drawings from the album “GAZ” by Zilzer from 1934

Concentration camps were not an original invention of the Nazi apparatus in Germany. The camps set up by the British in South Africa during the Boer War at the end of the 19th century, as well as the Russian Gulag (a punitive system based on forced labor), preceded and influenced the formation of the Nazi camps. The first concentration camp on German territory was established in Dachau after Hitler came to power in 1933. The camp intended to imprison opponents of the Nazi regime as well as people from social groups marked by the Nazis as “undesirable,” including homeless people, homosexuals, and others.

drawing from 1933 representing the concentration camp

Women and Children under the Swastika
Two drawings from 1933 representing the concentration camps. The second (bottom) one served as the cover page of the English booklet “Women and Children under the Swastika”, which collected factual reports on terrorism and oppression in the Third Reich, published 1936 in New York, USA

Zilzer belonged to the expressionist artistic movement, protesting the fascist ideology, calling for unity against the Nazi horrors in his published paintings as early as 1933.

"The Peace Talk" of Hitler calling for war. Caricature from 1934
“The Peace Talk” of Hitler calling for war. Caricature from 1934


" Let us share it" - Mussolini and Hitler sharing the globe. 1935
” Let us share it” – Mussolini and Hitler sharing the globe. 1935

By 1932 Zilzer left Europe and moved to the United States, where he spent a year traveling throughout the country all the while continuing to draw and to paint.

Letter of recommendation
Letter of recommendation from G. P. Putnam’s Sons given to Zilzer concerning his US citizenship. 1934


Social Security Card of Zilzer Gyula
US Social Security Card of Zilzer Gyula


Gyula Zilzer apparently in the late 30s
Gyula Zilzer apparently in the late 30s

He moved to Hollywood in 1939 where he worked designing stage sets of famous films as an art director. Outside of his work in the film industry, Zilzer created more patents for items such as a toy book for children, a helical underground parking area with shelter and the “VISI-Recorder”.

Stage set Zilzer Gyula
A stage set planned and drawn by Zilzer for the film “The short happy life of Francis Macomber”
Patented book for children
A patented toy book for children planned an designed by Zilzer


Helical parkin by Gyula Zilzer
A helical underground parking area with shelter planned by Zilzer, Kovacs and Williger


Air raid precaution parking place
Another version of the same shelter as above called “Air raid precaution parking place”


Logo of the Visi Recorder
Logo of the patented Visi Recorder by Zilzer


Membership certificate from The Institute of American Inventors given to Gyula Zilzer
Membership certificate from The Institute of American Inventors given to Gyula Zilzer in 1940

After the end of the Second World War, Zilzer returned to Europe and traveled between Paris and Budapest for a few years. In 1954 he moved to his final residence in New York City where he worked for the television networks NBC and Cinerama, all while continuing to paint and manage his private exhibitions, until his death in 1969.

An oil painting by Gyula Zilzer
An oil painting by Gyula Zilzer


Gyula Zilzer in his atelier in ca. 1943
Gyula Zilzer in his atelier in ca. 1943


Throughout his tumultuous life, Zilzer rubbed shoulders with many well-known, contemporary personalities including American writer and publicist Upton Sinclair, the French director Jean Vigo, the Mexican painter Diego Rivera, the movie actor Gregory Peck, the writers Roman Roland and Ilya Ehrenburg, the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși, the Hungarian poet József Attila, the author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Zilzer was also in close contact with the physicist Albert Einstein who received a collection of paintings gifted from Zilzer himself. This is certified by a letter of thanks sent from Einstein to Zilzer on March 26th 1933.

Records on “My Heritage” database show that Gyula was married to Irene P. Kellog. After their divorce he married Mary (Fuchs) Pitjel. Mary met Gyula in the USA, where she moved after the death of her first husband Kalman Pitjel, who fell during Israel’s War for Independence in 1948. This information is based on Tanya Rubinstein-Horowitz from Düsseldorf, Germany. Her father was a cousin of Kalman Pitjel.

A letter from Henry Miller to Gyula Zilzer 1956
I am glad you have found a wife – a real one! – writes Henry Miller to Zilzer in 1956; apparently regarding Mary

For the Gyula Zilzer Archive at the National Library and detailed information click here.

The Gyula Zilzer Archive has been reviewed and described thanks to the generous support of The Leir Foundation.