Hard reboot

I killed the old blog, which you may have been forwarded from. With regard to the name of the new one, both the first and second definitions apply. I do this every so often. The last site replace the one before that, and that one replaced an earlier one, still. It’s become sort of a nod to the idea that you can remake yourself online. Until other people start taking over that job for you, anyway.

There are those who advocate for an ephemeral web, where the Right to Be Forgotten is respected and we can all sweep our old lamentable Myspace custom pages and unfortunate drunk pics into the void. On the other side, there’s the camp that sees the whole of the internet as our age’s iteration of the Library of Alexandria.

Of course, it’s both. Or, it can be so long as you either understand the technologies involved in both ephemeral uses and archiving purposes, or you have enough money to own entire platforms. The second group here consist of the people who get to choose what the internet remembers, and what it forgets. Sure, there are great examples of independent archive projects that maintain The Public Record in an age when Youtube may wipe out troves of war crimes evidence without much thought or debate over it. Consider that. Evidence of crime, let’s say, mass murder, is handed over to you. It needs to be investigated, sure. You have a couple of options:

  1. Turn the evidence over to the relevant authorities;
  2. Throw out the evidence as fast as possible and pretend nothing happened.

Options 2 is essentially Youtube’s choice. Independent archiving is painstaking and time consuming and eats up lots of budgets for software, system administrators, server space and so on. The tools that do this with online media are great efforts and true labours of love, but are also often buggy, hard to use and then turn out results that often need a lot of cleanup and organising. I love them, but then I live here in this space where it’s part of the job to mess around with Python scripts until they work as the Github page promises they should or hitting the search results for all the configuration requirements that didn’t quite make into some open source verification platform’s readme file. My work”s largely done if/when these things are working. I couldn’t imagine actually using them for that level of work though. Yikes!

So, you can understand why researchers would prefer Youtube, where it’s easy to upload, tag and categories, search and use video. Just like you can understand why Human Rights organisations were pretty upset when Facebook shut down Graph Search.

“These platforms were all built on the premise of democratising information, promising a new marketplace for sharing ideas and building connections between individuals in diverse regions of the world,” wrote Sam Dubberly in a NewsWeek oped. “They lured in human rights defenders with a promise: ‘Put your content here, and the world will see what is happening in your community.’ So people posted photos and videos of the worst kinds of abuses – extrajudicial executions, barrel bombs, torture – providing some of the vital evidence we need to hold perpetrators to account.”

And then they were gone, because being the repository for the never-ending haemorrhaging ick of our species was never Facebook or Youtube or Twitter or whatever’s intended business model, it was just the inevitable outcome. The centralised, market-dominated web is essentially fires always breaking out somewhere in the library. The arsonists are the librarians.

There is a struggle over the right for the internet to remember, but there are other things most people would prefer it forgets, or possibly didn’t hold onto for that long. Best-known ephemeral messaging app Snapchat is the centralised internet’s response to this demand, and here’s how it’s gone: In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission took action against Snapchat for false claims about users “self destructing” photos were actually doing that (they weren’t). That was also the year of the #Snappening, in which 200,000 user images were leaked via 4chan because a third party app was able to let users secretly stash photos without the sender’s knowledge, much less consent. Still in 2019, so long as the company has tools that allow it a backdoor entrance into any account (which was abused) then the promise of the service offering ephemeral messaging is fairly dubious.

Technology may simply do what it’s told, but often users aren’t actually the ones telling it what to do. The hidden treachery in the stack are the people who own the platforms.