October 27, 2021

“Wayback Machine Won’t Censor Archive for Taste, Director Says After Olympics Article Scrubbed”

Note: Several well-known members of the library community are quoted in the article linked below. 

From Steve Nelson at U.S. News:

Outrage spread quickly after a straight reporter created a gay dating profile and reported the weights, athletic events and nationalities of Olympians who contacted him, including those from “notoriously homophobic” countries. As furor spread last week, the Daily Beast revised and then retracted the article, sending latecomers to the controversy to the Wayback Machine. But the pioneering web repository had also removed the article.

The director of the Wayback Machine, a peerless library maintained by the San Francisco-based Internet Archive, says the decision does not reflect a pivot toward suppressing controversial content, but rather was made in the interest of athletes’ safety.

“I assure you taste doesn’t really enter into our equation,” Mark Graham tells U.S. News. “The page we’re talking about here was removed from the Wayback Machine out of a concern for safety and that’s it.”

Read the Complete US News Article (approx. 1700 words)

Comment by Gary Price, infoDOCKET Founder/Editor

You have to question not only the journalist who wrote The Daily Beast article but also the editors who reviewed it and published it before taking it down. Bad article, bad decision making, bad journalism. Period.

That said, even with the article taken down by both the publisher and now The Wayback Machine this doesn’t mean that the article is totally removed from the web.

Steve Nelson, the author of the US News article is correct, The Wayback Machine is a peerless resource.

No other web archive comes close to its size and depth. We have said many times over many years that Wayback is one of the most important and essential web research tools available. We feel the same way about other Internet Archive services. Brewster Kahle and is IA team do great work.

What the public and news sources MUST understand, is that once the publish/post/upload button is pushed the author/publisher loses total control of their content never knowing if it will be totally inaccessible forever if they decide to remove it.

First, Wayback is likely not going to remove the material (if they have a copy) not to mention other, smaller, but still publicly accessible web archives removing the archived item. The content could resurface at any time. Yes, it might be found in its original location but somewhere else, a URL that Google or another web search engine is indexing.

Info professionals who work with the public need to stress this point again and again, THINK before you post.

All of these issues are also the case when it comes to social media. For example, several years ago we posted about a law in California that allows those under 18 to petition to have social media posts removed. Not only might this idea less than effective (the original post could potentially be removed but RTs would still be available) but it also promotes posting an item before thinking about what you’re sharing.

See:  California Kids Get Social Media ‘Eraser’—But It Might not Work (October 10, 2013)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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