Unpublishing the Web
When does removing online content or editing it after the fact cross the line into censorship? In an intelligent article posted to Alternet earlier this week, Melinda Burns investigates the ways in which the Web and "cloud computing" have made it easier to erase the past, and finds that "unpublishing" poses a grave and largely unrecognized risk to the Web's unprecedented wealth of information.
The ways in which online content changes are many, from newspapers amending their archives at the request of people who don't want past coverage showing up in online searches, to whole papers, magazines and journals going bankrupt and losing their sites and the associated years of stored content. While the Web has made access to information mind-bogglingly greater (how many more people are performing searches of newspapers' online archives than were rolling through microfilms or mailing requests for back issues?), in its digital form, that same information can much more easily be amended or lost altogether. Obviously, changing or destroying the public record brings up a whole host of political and journalistic issues, and Burns's piece cites Columbia University's recently established Human Rights Web Archive as an example of efforts to save some of the Web's most vital information. The archive identifies and preserves "sites that are providing valuable information on struggles for democracy in other countries," many of which are at risk of "being hacked, suspended or shut down by repressive regimes." But the project's funding and scope is limited, and rules and standards for what deserves preserving and what we cannot let disappear are still evolving.
A good example of the haphazard nature of Web regulations came out of Milan last week when a court there convicted three Google executives for violating Italian privacy laws by hosting a bullying clip on Google Video. Though none of the executives were in court to hear the ruling, the international community reacted strongly to the case: a British MP called it "the biggest threat to internet freedom we have seen in Europe," and the American ambassador to Italy said that the verdict violated the "freedom of the internet," a "human right that is to be protected in free societies." The statement on Google's official blog said the ruling posed a "serious threat to the web." Of course, the ruling's detractors are not advocating a Wild West Web above privacy laws and other protections; their fears center on the way holding Google executives accountable for content posted to a Google site will promote an atmosphere of preemptive self-censorship in which administrators remove any questionable hosted materials, even if the materials violate no laws.
But as the Guardian's Charles Arthur explains, this danger is already a reality. Arthur summarizes one YouTube user's experience:
The most egregious case seems to be that of Mark Kobayashi-Hillary, who filmed some people waiting for a Jimmy Carr gig, and popped the video up on YouTube (which is owned by Google). Someone from Carr's management registered a complaint and even though he was not shown performing..., it was deleted, along with every single other one Kobayashi-Hillary's 900-odd videos about all sorts of things.
While newspapers have a position of relative privilege in terms of the content they can run, the rights of individuals posting to giant video hosting sites are less clear, and therefore more at risk. As painful as they are to watch, what if administrators had decided that videos of Oscar Grant or Neda Agha-Soltan were too offensive, or that hosting them might violate some law? Videos are no less susceptible than newspapers' archives to the threat of "unpublishing," and they need the same protection and preservation.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?
- Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
- Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
- Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.
It's not just a case of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
- A new study suggests children who endure trauma grow up to be adults with more empathy than others.
- The effect is not universal, however. Only one kind of empathy was greatly effected.
- The study may lead to further investigations into how people cope with trauma and lead to new ways to help victims bounce back.
Do you have a magnetic compass in your head?
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.