A major data loss by file sharing platform Myspace is a timely reminder about trust and the permanence of online content platforms
Last week, Myspace publicly admitted to a huge data loss.
It told users: “As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos, and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from Myspace. We apologise for the inconvenience.” That amounts to a loss of 13 years of user generated content, estimated at more than 50 million tracks.
The loss of Myspace data calls into question the notion of trust in open content sharing platforms but data loss is not the only issue. Changing business decisions such as those seen with Flickr and Google+ remind us that what appears to be permanent may not always be so.
When is forever not forever?
Initially a slow burning story highlighted by Reddit, the news that Myspace has lost its data pre-2015 is as a wake-up call on the reliance and resilience of content sharing platforms.
Founded in 2003, Myspace quickly grew as a platform for emerging artists and musicians. Bands such as Arctic Monkeys embraced Myspace to promote their music and grow a fan base before they were signed to a record label. All photos and events on their Myspace page now appear to have disappeared and music files no longer stream.
Whatever the current user base in comparison to the early years of the platform, this huge loss of data, of cultural heritage, highlights the shifting sands that can underpin such platforms.
Myspace users are not the only ones affected. Flickr announced in November 2018 that it was removing the 1TB per user on its free accounts, limiting users to 1000 images.
Cultural, government and non-profit institutions using Flickr Commons were exempt from these decisions, however not all libraries and special collections use Flickr Commons.
Following lobbying from Creative Commons, SmugMug (the owners of Flickr) belatedly revised their position on free accounts.
In early March 2019 they came to the welcome decision that all freely licensed images, including creative commons, public domain etc, would be exempt from upload limits. Those users choosing other licenses such as ‘all rights reserved’ would continue to be subject to the 1000 limit.
Another tech giant that has had to warn users about the potential loss of data is Google, which recently announced the closure of its social media platform Google+ for consumers as of 2 April 2019. It recently emailed users instructions to delete their accounts and an FAQ detailing what would and wouldn’t be saved.
These are just a few notable examples of social media sites changing during their lifetimes, with a real impact on users at both a personal and institutional level. It highlights the loss of control over our content when we place it on social media platforms.
Choosing the channels to promote your digital materials
Should we then stop using social media platforms to promote digital materials for learning, teaching and research?
The answer is no, but there are lessons to be learned:
1. Know your audience
Knowing your audience is key to deciding where you place content online. Is Flickr Commons, Wikimedia, Twitter, etc. where your audience really is? Do these platforms support your institutional mission?
2. Know your rights
Central to this is an understanding of the terms and conditions of those platforms at a data-in and data-out point. Are you giving up rights to content by posting them? What license is suitable for your content? What recourse do you have if you want to remove content?
3. Be conscious that things can change
All of this is part of the risk assessment at the beginning of the process to post materials on any platform and with it should be an underlying acceptance that things may change in the future. While this may deter some from engaging with social media platforms, posting content online enriches learning and teaching opportunities for all.
4. Keep up to date with changes to platforms
As far as longevity of content on social media platforms is concerned, how can you keep abreast with changes to platforms to ensure you can protect your content over the years?
There’s no quick way to do this. Companies often keep quiet until they have no choice but to go public, such as the data breach that led to the demise of Google+.
The Myspace story has shown that full disclosure about its data loss was over a long period of time, often through individuals asking questions as to where their content had gone before the bigger picture emerged. It would be impossible to monitor content daily, so what can we do?
My suggestions would be to:
- Periodically spot search and check functionality of the content on that platform
- Directly query platforms if you spot issues
- Check news updates on the social media platforms themselves
- Backup you content and data where possible
You can find more advice on platform choice and copyright considerations in our guide, making your digital collections easier to discover and our accompanying training course.
During the past 15 years social media platforms have become a ubiquitous part of our culture, opening access to content and myriad ways to engage with that content and with each other.
We shouldn’t lose our trust in social media platforms; however, we need to acknowledge their potential transient nature and treat them with the appropriate watchfulness.