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What Is Metadata? And Why Is it Important?

If you deal with digital information at all, you’ve undoubtedly heard of metadata. But do you know exactly what it is? And do you understand the importance of it as it relates to litigation? To help unpack this often confusing term, we’ve put together the following metadata explanation for your review. 

What Is Metadata?

Metadata provides information about digital data. In other words, it’s the data about data. As an example, the metadata of a social media post would include information about the author of the post, the message type, post date and time, versions, links (un-shortened), location, likes, and comments.

Metadata Types:

Metadata typically falls into one of the following categories:

Descriptive: This is metadata that describes the elements and nature of a piece of digital content.

Structural: Metadata that provides information about the structure of digital data, such as headers, chapters, pages, etc.

Administrative: Information that makes it easier to manage a specific digital resource. This could include data about the type of resource or access permissions related to the content. 

Statistical: Sometimes also called process data, this metadata provides information about statistical data, specifically how this data was collected, processed, and produced.

Reference: Related to the previous entry, this metadata provides information regarding the nature, content, and quality of statistical data.

Online Content and Metadata

When we look at online data—the realm in which Pagefreezer operates—metadata typically provides information on the following:

  1. Client Metadata (who collected it)
    i.e Browser, operating system, IP address, user
  2. Web Server/API Endpoint Metadata (where and when it was collected)
    i.e URL, HTTP headers, type, date & time of request and response
  3. Account Metadata (who is the owner)
    i.e Account owner, bio, description, location
  4. Message Metadata (what was said when)
    i.e Author, message type, post date &  time, versions, links (un-shortened), location, privacy settings, likes, comments, friends

We all know what a typical tweet or post looks like in your feed; it looks fairly simple. In most cases, you’ll see some text, an image, and a link. But on the back-end is a ton of information. Here’s what the metadata for a short, simple tweet with a static image looks like. 

An example of what metadata looks likeWhy Is Metadata Important?

So why do we need to care about this “invisible” information? It matters because, while this data may seem insignificant under normal day-to-day circumstances, it can quickly become important in a couple of key instances. 

When it comes to online data like social media and website content, metadata is crucial for authentication of content, which in turn means that it plays a major role in compliance and litigation. Whenever you need to prove that records of website content, comments, or social media posts look exactly like they did when they were first published, you need metadata that shows when, where, and how they were created.

For regulated industries, such as financial services, or public-sector entities governed by FOIA/Open Records laws, metadata is needed to prove that records are indeed authentic. Two primary use cases are when an auditor asks a financial services firm for official website records, or a journalist places an open records request for a city’s social media data.

A definition of metadataFor highly-litigated industries, metadata is just as important. In fact, it can be argued that metadata is even more important when it comes to legal matters, since the authenticity of records is often heavily contested. 

These days, information from emails, social media comments, and enterprise collaboration conversations are central to litigation, and anyone entering data from these sources into evidence needs to be able to prove that it hasn’t been tampered with. That’s where metadata comes in; it proves exactly when, where, and how a record was created. Without metadata, it’s very probable that the digital evidence will be denied in court.

That’s why we always emphasize that Pagefreezer records are defensible. Not only is data securely archived to ensure that no one gains unauthorized access to it, but all archive exports boast complete metadata, timestamps, and digital signatures. So if an auditor, regulator, or court requests information, you can provide records that’ll stand up to even the harshest scrutiny.

Want to learn more? Download our Social Media Solution Overview to find out about the monitoring, archiving, and export capabilities of the Pagefreezer dashboard. Or download a case study about the Risk Management of Enterprise Collaboration at Scale.

Peter Callaghan
Peter Callaghan
Peter Callaghan is the Chief Revenue Officer at Pagefreezer. He has a very successful record in the tech industry, bringing significant market share increases and exponential revenue growth to the companies he has served. Peter has a passion for building high-performance sales and marketing teams, developing value-based go-to-market strategies, and creating effective brand strategies.

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