People who oppose big tech’s war on disinformation often use freedom of speech and anti-censorship arguments to oppose this practice. However, a new report from TechDirt has highlighted an interesting perspective that often gets forgotten when discussing the downsides of removing information from the internet – this practice often makes it impossible to have an accurate record of what actually happened.
The report highlights a Twitter thread from a researcher who suggests that Facebook and Twitter shutting down disinformation accounts makes it difficult for researchers and investigators to do their job.
The thread highlights that when researchers or investigators are looking into bad actors, they often have to look at activity that takes place over months or years which becomes impossible when this information is scrubbed from the internet. As a solution, the researcher suggests this information should be kept available in archive form instead of being removed completely.
While it’s concerning that the researcher still sees shutting down disinformation as a good thing, the wider point about the importance of preserving accurate historical records is something we should pay attention to.
Big tech companies are constantly ramping up their efforts to fight disinformation. We saw this most recently when Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube all attempted to suppress information that suggested actor Jussie Smollett was making false claims about being attacked, even though he was ultimately charged with filing a false police report.
While these big tech companies aren’t currently deleting what they deem to be disinformation, they are becoming increasingly aggressive in their efforts to stop it spreading, and it seems like we’re not that far away from these sites banning so-called disinformation completely and then deleting any content that’s categorized as disinformation.
If this happens, we would completely lose the historical record of certain events and it would be impossible to accurately figure out what happened retrospectively. For example, if all the information suggesting Smollett was making false claims had been deleted at the time, only the mainstream media reports that believed his claims without question would remain. This would mean people looking back at the event retrospectively would have no idea that anyone doubted Smollett’s claims at the time, even though this was a prominent part of the narrative.
On a mass scale, this would be disastrous and give big tech companies and the mainstream media the power to warp historical records in their favor. It’s essential that we preserve these accurate historical records and don’t let big tech’s war on disinformation cause the rewriting of history.