The Church State Council pulling down its statement of support for California’s Proposition 8 (2008) is no match for me and the Wayback Machine.
The statement is a piece of evidence in a series of posts I wrote back in 2013 that contains several links to official Adventist departments, ministries, and advocacy organizations. These links provide a trail of the denomination’s work over the last 30 years or so to minimize or outright oppose civil protections for LGBTQ people.
Those links also frequently break, more so than links in any other cluster of articles I host on this site. The only other topic cluster that comes close to this breakage rate includes—wait for it—articles on government surveillance.
I know the internet is a fragile, ethereal house. I know a page can go up today and come down tomorrow, perhaps broken in a site redesign, perhaps gracefully retired by an active site editor.
I have a few retired pages on this site myself: the site structure has changed about three times since 2012. I changed it when I started self-hosting. I changed it again when I redesigned and started my business. I have still never withdrawn a post, so if any of you are ever bored enough to trawl through the archives, you’ll notice all sorts of things back there. (God speed.)
But the official links that break in my articles aren’t just moved or re-posted with new context or fixed in place for posterity’s sake. They’re gone.
Sometimes what information stays up or comes down on a site isn’t benign. Sometimes the way a new administration preserves or reframes old items represents its approach to a topic. In an authoritarian internet, the new erases the old and there’s no basis for challenge.
There’s some cover for this in emerging European law that establishes “the right to be forgotten.” But I think even that right, which makes most sense for individuals without a big public footprint, is slightly different from what perpetually broken links can create: a mandate to forget. If all the links to the tree falling in the forest are broken and those who watched it fall can’t find each other, did it really happen?
Since studying the customs of British intelligence and political communication in graduate school, I’ve held onto a pointed cartoon about official news from cartoonist Tom Toles. It’s titled “The first draft of the rewrite of history,” and the punchline is the motto of spokespersons and governments alike: “Your memory is in error. We regret your mistake.”
I’m learning to manage my own memories. This isn’t a task one can do well as an isolated individual; instead we all need peer networks that are full of people who can help us to remember well even news that’s uncomfortable.
The Wayback Machine and I can take on a single site editor one link at a time. But it would be so much better if we could trust that people with power weren’t going to try to rewrite our common history in front of our eyes.