Social media icons.
Earlier this week, a tweet was posted by a former staff member of The Pool, showing that the site, after months of financial trouble, had been taken offline. With little warning, years of work was scrubbed from the internet.
And earlier this month, MySpace apologised after millions of songs were deleted from their site. Some artists may have long forgotten about work created a decade ago, but when made aware, they protested the deletion of hard graft. Next month, Google will close Google+, their once secretive social platform, now a relic to social media history.
Those on social media joke about wanting to scrub our internet histories; about deleting old, terrible tweets, Facebook posts and terrible blogs. We collectively seem very much to have the mentality that the internet’s impermanence is a good thing. But we should have the power to decide what remains on the internet to represent us, not media and tech companies.
Firstly, it’s a good idea to delete your bad tweets. Most millennials today will have used the internet in their adolescence – at a time when they were barely able to order a WKD at a Wetherspoon without blushing, let alone send a well thought-out tweet or grapple with its ramifications. But applying the frivolous way we treat social posts to online art and content is wrong, and the swinging of the axe definitely should not be a decision made by the cold corporation.
These deleted songs and websites are people’s proof of work. They are recognition of hours of process, creation and editing. They are also, importantly, a record of the culture of the time at which it was created, and a reflection of our changing society. Every day we use journalism and music as a way to understand the world around us and build the basis of historical record. Newspapers were once described as the “first rough draft of history” and while the method of how history is recorded has changed significantly, its importance has not.
For the creators, their work is a personal journey that weaves into the greater tapestry of the collective.
We should preserve articles, music, podcasts and social pages. There should be initiatives for this now and not in 10 or 50 years’ time when we realise we need them. This preservation is not difficult – there are people out there doing amazing largely free work to protect the internet’s history. Just look at the Geocities Research Institute, a glorious treasure trove of knowledge from the 1990s and 2000s that feels almost bittersweet considering all the websites now lost in the ether.
When Myspace music was deleted, some people appeared to mock musicians for thinking social media giants would protect their work. This feels cruel; we’re still in our infancy with our relationship with social media, people’s rights on the internet are a fairly new concept. We’ve only started to discuss how free speech works online; it’s no wonder preservation of websites and digital culture is still a mess. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push for a better approach. For example, why does some work get the privilege of remaining easily accessible, while other work is relegated to archive searches or hastily created blogs?
When you look at what stays online and what is removed, it becomes unavoidably political; those with money and influence remain on the front pages on the internet, deciding who gets to sit there with them and determining the value of others’ work.
In the same way that people push for diversity of creation, people should also push for diversity of preservation. The internet has been a powerful tool for marginalised voices: let’s make sure it isn’t easy for those who traditionally write history to quickly take that platform away.
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