Recently, a 7-year-old photo of mine appeared at the top of my Facebook feed. The orange glow of the streetlamps as well as the ramshackle barricade of furniture as well as scrap metal within the background dated in which to a very particular time as well as place: Cairo, in February 2011, when the revolutionaries camped in Tahrir Square were waging a pitched battle against an assault coming from government-backed thugs.
Seeing in which brought back the sound of rocks clanging against sheet metal, the arc of a Molotov cocktail thrown coming from a balcony, the bandaged head of a barricade defender who told me he was ready to die.
As time passes, I fear in which more as well as more of what happened in those days will live only in memory. The internet has slowly unraveled since 2011: Image-hosting sites went out of business, link shorteners shut down, tweets got deleted, as well as YouTube accounts were shuttered. One broken link at a time, one of the most heavily documented historical events of the social media era could fade away before our eyes.
in which’s the paradox of the internet age: Smartphones as well as social media have created an archive of publicly available information unlike any in human history — an ocean of eyewitness testimony. although while we create almost everything on the internet, we control almost none of in which.
within the summer of 2017, observers of the Syrian Civil War realized in which YouTube was removing dozens of channels as well as tens of thousands of videos documenting the conflict. The deletions occurred after YouTube announced in which in which had deployed “cutting-edge machine learning technology … to identify as well as remove violent extremism as well as terrorism-related content.” although the machines went too far.
“What’s disappearing in front of our eyes can be the history of This particular terrible war,” Chris Woods, the director of the reporting as well as advocacy organization Airwars, said at the time. Not only were the deleted videos a resource for journalists as well as a public chronicle of the violence, they were potential evidence for war crimes trials. YouTube restored most of the channels following the outcry although has continued to delete footage at a slower pace — about 0,000 videos of the conflict have been memory-holed, observers estimated in March.
Our access to information can be incredibly broad although shockingly fleeting. A tweet in which was meant to be forgotten within minutes resurfaces years later to cost someone their job, while a video providing unambiguous evidence of war crimes disappears without a trace. A handful of enormous tech companies curate the public library we conjure into existence every day, as well as they can as well as do delete in which at a whim.
Information ephemerality, as well as our lack of a style for noncorporate control of digital information, has been a blessing for governments looking to rewrite history as well as a curse for those trying to document the truth in environments where in which can be being contested every day. After Egypt’s 2011 uprising, an endless stream of propaganda coming from the regime as well as its allies has gradually rewritten history, casting the protests as a foreign-backed conspiracy, never to be repeated, or erasing them coming from textbooks altogether. The state’s total media dominance has made in which easy to establish This particular narrative.
In response, activists there did something in which could serve as a lesson for the rest of us. They reclaimed control of their digital memories.
In January, after years of quiet as well as coordinated work among hundreds of people, the filmmaking collective Mosireen launched an online archive containing as much amateur footage as they could find documenting the Egyptian uprising as well as the years in which followed. Named 858, after the number of hours of indexed, time-stamped footage posted on the day the archive went public, in which represents a completely new style for preserving our information ownership — as well as our collective memory — in a time when corporations cannot be trusted to do in which for us.
“The very act of constructing an archive can be a form of power,” Cairo-based writer Amir-Hussein Radjy noted in a January article about 858, nodding to Jacques Derrida’s 1995 book, Archive Fever. In in which, Derrida argued in which “effective democratization can always be measured by This particular essential criterion: the participation in as well as the access to the archive.” In Egypt, Radjy wrote, the state-run National Archive “receives no state papers coming from the presidency, or the powerful ministries of defense, Inside, as well as foreign affairs. The army keeps a separate archive altogether.” The public can be excluded coming from its own history.
There can be no artifice to 858, no tech-utopian snake oil about solving the problem through the blockchain or producing a scalable solution for all of humanity. Its interface brings to mind the functionality of an early 2000s PC video player, as well as in which can break down, like when the sound cuts out as you move coming from one clip to the next. There are also awkward gaps within the history in which archives, such as the dearth of footage documenting one of the largest massacres of civilian protesters in modern world history — the infamous assault on a Muslim Brotherhood–led sit-in shortly after the military coup of 2013, which killed more than 800 civilians. Mosireen, mostly composed of leftists as well as liberals who despise the Islamists they blame for derailing the revolution, did not film the Brotherhood protests, as well as seem to have shown little interest in working with the people who did.
although 858 can be a real achievement, succeeding in what the internet’s original evangelists had always hoped would certainly be its great prize: the democratization of information. in which takes a contested historical moment as well as places the documentation within the people’s hands without an unreliable corporate intermediary. You are reminded, as you sit through video after video, not only in which something revolutionary genuinely did occur in Egypt in 2011 although in which the event was truly common, drilling through nearly every layer of society. in which can be only one window onto the uprising, framed by activists that has a partisan viewpoint, although in which’s a start, as well as more should follow.
Those windows matter, because the internet can be messing with human cognition in ways in which will take decades to fully understand. Some researchers believe in which can be altering the way we create memories. In one study, researchers told a group of people to copy a list of facts onto a computer. They told half the group in which the facts would certainly be saved when they finished as well as the some other half in which the facts would certainly be erased. Those who thought in which the facts would certainly be saved were much worse at remembering them afterward. Instead of relying on our friends as well as neighbors — or on books, for in which matter — we have began outsourcing our memories to the internet.
So what happens if those memories are erased — as well as if the very platforms responsible for their storage are the ones doing the erasing?
in which scenario can be a threat everywhere, although particularly in countries where the authorities are most aggressively controlling speech as well as editing history. We say the internet never forgets, although internet freedom isn’t evenly distributed: When tech companies have expanded into parts of the entire world where information suppression can be the norm, they have proven willing to work with local censors.
Those censors will be emboldened by completely new efforts at platform regulation within the US as well as Europe, just as authoritarian regimes have already enthusiastically repurposed the rhetoric of “fake news.”
The reach as well as power of tech platforms such as Facebook as well as Twitter are so completely new as well as strange in which we’ve barely begun formulating a response. although we can learn coming from the activists already doing in which; coming from Mosireen, or the team behind the Syrian Archive — six people, that has a budget of $96,000, who are preserving thousands of hours of footage coming from their country’s civil war. The archive recently published the Chemical Weapons Database, documenting 221 chemical weapons attacks with 861 verified videos, implicating the Assad regime in a pattern of war crimes as well as putting the lie to armchair investigators helping to propagate conspiracy theories within the West. One of its cofounders recently told the Intercept in which he spends nearly all his time producing sure videos aren’t deleted coming from the big tech platforms before he gets a chance to download them.
The difficulty of navigating Silicon Valley’s moderation bureaucracy as a far-flung subject of its empire can be a reminder in which the ability to collaborate with companies like Facebook or Google can be also not evenly distributed. While Amnesty International as well as Human Rights Watch may be able to get what they want out of YouTube, a Syrian exile in Turkey can be relegated to his couch, clicking the help button over as well as over again.
Those on the front lines of repression have shown the entire world a style for preserving history within the digital age; people with money as well as power — predominantly within the West — should support them as well as follow their lead. At stake can be nothing less than our collective memory.
Evan Hill can be a researcher as well as writer focused on the Middle East as well as US security policy.