Joseph Nathan Cohen

Department of Sociology, CUNY Queens College, New York, NY

Start Making Backups

I am being naive about how much we can rely on commercial social media to maintain a public record

Earlier this year, the social media site Twitter made news by accidentally deleting huge archives of tweets. Among the casualties was an iconic snapshot that once held the country’s attention – the famed selfie, taken by comedian Ellen DeGeneres during her stint as the host of the 2014 Oscars. At the height of its fame, it was among the most shared images ever.  

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned here.  For years, we widely presumed that tech behemoths like Twitter would maintain the public records that developed on their platforms. Recently, the naivete of this view has become more obvious.  First, there is no guarantee these big tech firms survive.  Big names can collapse, and their archives disappear into the ether.  Twitter is not too big to fail.

Second, it is not clear that big tech would elect to keep open the public record that developed on their servers. Reddit, for example, has been cutting public access to its data in order to monetize its value as a means of training AI data.

All of this amounts to a conclusion on my part that I had to take charge of maintaining a library of the content that I produce on social media. So much of our communications has taken place on an infrastructure that is less permanent than we have been assuming.  So much of everything that I have done is on the cloud, and I’m not altogether sure that I fully trust the cloud.

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