As with many things in life, nothing lasts forever on the internet.
Servers get turned off, websites get taken down, you hit one wrong button and history that has taken years of hard work to build is erased. But, just as there is no certainty on the persistence of anything, there is also no guarantee that something will completely disappear, either.
From inappropriate tweets posted in a blind rage and embarrassing comments on forums to ridiculous-looking photos from an era when outlandish outfits were the norm, things posted on the internet have a stubborn way of persisting. What’s more, it’s difficult to tell what will disappear and what will last. But precisely because of the persistent nature of internet posts, some social media sites are starting to look at making the eventual disappearance of content a fundamental feature.
On Ephemerality and Freedom
Social media companies are increasingly looking into intentional ephemeral interactions as an antidote to the digital data hoarding that has been happening on the internet for the past 30 years. Intentional ephemerality, as first demonstrated by Snapchat’s auto-delete feature, lends a kind of security blanket to users. It provides an assurance that whatever they post on social media will not be used against you in the foreseeable future.
A study by the Social Media Lab at Cornell University confirms that for users, the assurance of a digital expiration date can be liberating. Respondents of the survey claimed that they are able to share more on apps that allow auto-deletion. Ephemerality allows people the freedom to share small peeks into the mundane details of their lives, from photos of pets to “really ugly selfies,” as they don’t have to worry about that content lurking somewhere in the digital realm, waiting for an inopportune moment to reappear.
Reducing Permanence on Social Media
Mark Zuckerberg alluded to this when recently explaining what he referred to as “reducing permanence” online. In a long public post, the Facebook CEO announced that the company will be focusing on building a more “privacy-focused” platform. He says he believes that the future of communication will significantly shift to encrypted services where people who seek privacy can be confident that their conversations will be secure, and that their messages won’t linger forever.
But while many experts think it may be a good thing that less data stays online permanently, a more ephemeral internet would present its own problems. Historians who compile records of this age, for example, may increasingly struggle to collect information from Social Media sites, and since so much public discourse takes place on these channels, this would be a significant loss.
Intentional ephemerality may also pose a challenge to organizations that use social media for both internal and external business communication. In case of legal proceedings, an audit, or any situation where a company needs to protect itself or prove compliance, ephemerality can make pulling up an accurate history of relevant posts, tweets, and any other content near impossible.
The Solution: Social Media and Website Archiving
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