News Corp’s Anzac Live is back. Though truly, it never went away.

On July 16, the company launched a chat bot using the voice of Archie Barwick, a farmer-turned-soldier who served first at Gallipoli, then in France and Belgium. It runs on his Facebook page — which was first launched last year as part of the company’s initial Anzac Live initiative, which was tied to the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

News Corp has used Facebook’s just-launched chat bot functionality to allow users to ask Barwick’s page questions, which are answered using snippets from Barwick’s own diaries. The bot has been created by News Corp and software company Wizeline, using Wit.ai language technology. As the page states in an update:

“As an Anzac Live special, we are proud to present the Archie Barwick Facebook Messenger chatbot. Get incredibly detailed updates from Archie 24/7, ask questions and see how the bot answers. Use Messenger on your phone (or desktop) to be with Archie every moment of his time at Pozieres. Find him on Messenger or go to his Facebook page and message from there.”

Anzac Live editor Justin Lees wrote in the Herald Sun yesterday that Barwick’s:

“… extensive journals cover everything from his thoughts on the fear and impending battle (‘This may be the last entry I write’) and the enemy ‘I reckon you are justified in shooting the dogs on sight’) to less warlike matters like food, booze, sport and of course his beloved home.”

Also making a return this year are several of the Facebook accounts first introduced as part of Anzac Live, including Alice Ross-King, Bert Reynolds, Arthur James Adams and John Monash.

Australian media outlets, particularly News Corp, have a long history of capitalising on WWI history. As historian Jo Hawkins noted in Crikey last year when considering the previous incarnation of Anzac Live (in which Barwick’s was one of the voices featured), primary sources like diaries need to be read in context. Diaries of WWI released for public consumption during or after WWI, for example, tended to be exceedingly patriotic.

Peter Fray

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