Photographs of a historical moment in the history of technological news, the day when Gizmodo journalist published practical photos of the iPhone 4 so not yet announced, are now missing. And they’re not alone – large amounts of footage from G / O Media sites like Onion, Jalopnik, and Deadspin (as good as Gizmodo) have been deleted, apparently intentionally, according to onlooker.
A recent onlooker report emphasizes that Buzzfeed also wiped out many older images from the web. Still, the reason Buzzfeed is doing it is relatively obvious after management explained the copyright claims on the older photos considered some of them “high risk.”
Both cases are examples of “link rot”, where content on the Internet is drastically altered because it disappears altogether or because essential elements are missing.
As a crash course in history, a prototype iPhone 4 making its way into the hands of tech journalists was a huge deal in 2010, and a key highlight of the moment was the pictures. People got to see the all new design of the phone and its internals even before Steve Jobs could go on stage and announce it. It has become a fiasco involving police raiding a publisher’s home (all legal documents Gizmodo published in this article are gone, by the way), but now these photos are taken in a drama of their own.
G / O Media employees apparently weren’t told why the photos and artwork disappeared from their stories, and company executives reportedly didn’t warn them that this would happen. onlooker speculates that this could be due to copyright issues, citing his report on Buzzfeed do the same thing.
There is also an interesting timeline for site ownership, which could affect copyright in other ways. onlooker reports that the images that were removed appear to be from articles posted on the sites before they became part of G / O Media. Prior to being purchased by their current owner, a private equity firm, many sites were part of Gizmodo Media. This entity was born from the ashes of Gawker Media (from a certain relationship with the new-onlooker report on this). To sum up a long and complicated story, the relevant articles apparently predate the company’s publication. heavily criticized from within current owners.
G / O Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Whatever the reasons this is happening, the demise of so much history from the internet has clearly struck a chord. Edge alum Bryan Menegus highlighted on Twitter one Gizmodo article featuring an anti-union Amazon video misses its vital footage. Another Twitter user points out a Kotaku article on game preservation (ironically) now misses his art. There are also other examples: An untold number of Onion articles whose jokes have been spoiled, a Edge colleague pointed out that rare photos of a decommissioned power plant we once admired have now disappeared, and former critics have spoken about how the effort they put into taking pictures now seems wasted.
We’ve seen massive cases of link rot before, with one notable example of what happened when Twitter banned then-President Donald Trump – news reports that incorporated his tweets as context or evidence showed suddenly almost empty boxes instead.
A recent study showed that a quarter of “deep links” (or links to specific pages) in New York Times digital articles no longer lead to the content they were meant to contain. In many cases, the explanations aren’t dramatic: a page might have changed URLs or been deleted, or a website might have gone down because no one cared to keep working on it. There have been cases where crooks have intentionally hijacked dead links for unsuspecting clicks, but this is often just a case of internet entropy. The end result, however, is the same – content that readers once knew is no longer available.
Link rot may be common, but it is still a major problem if we are to use the Internet as a global repository of knowledge. If you take a magazine from 50 years ago and read it, you’ll have more or less exactly the same experience as someone who bought it the day it was published. Do the same with an article on the Internet from just a few years ago, and you roll the dice.
Internet Archive has gone to great lengths to try and save pieces of Internet history (and indeed, you can still read the article on iPhone 4 with photos intact. on the group’s WayBack Machine after searching for the article’s original URL), but there isn’t much that there is not much that individual organizations can do. Important things will slip through the cracks unless something fundamental on the web changes or companies take preservation seriously.