Silicon Valley Can’t Be Trusted With Our History
the internet is messing with human cognition in ways that will take decades to fully understand. Some researchers believe it is altering the way we create memories. In one study, researchers told a group of people to copy a list of facts onto a computer. They told half the group that the facts would be saved when they finished and the other half that the facts would be erased. Those who thought that the facts would be saved were much worse at remembering them afterward. Instead of relying on our friends and neighbors — or on books, for that matter — we have started outsourcing our memories to the internet. So what happens if those memories are erased — and if the very platforms responsible for their storage are the ones doing the erasing? That scenario is a threat everywhere, but particularly in countries where the authorities are most aggressively controlling speech and editing history. We say the internet never forgets, but internet freedom isn’t evenly distributed: When tech companies have expanded into parts of the world where information suppression is the norm, they have proven willing to work with local censors. Those censors will be emboldened by new efforts at platform regulation in the US and Europe, just as authoritarian regimes have already enthusiastically repurposed the rhetoric of “fake news.” The reach and power of tech platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are so new and strange that we’ve barely begun formulating a response. But we can learn from the activists already doing it; from Mosireen, or the team behind the Syrian Archive — six people, with a budget of $96,000, who are preserving thousands of hours of footage from their country’s civil war. The archive recently published the Chemical Weapons Database, documenting 221 chemical weapons attacks with 861 verified videos, implicating the Assad regime in a pattern of war crimes and putting the lie to armchair investigators helping to propagate conspiracy theories in the West. One of its cofounders recently told the Intercept that he spends nearly all his time making sure videos aren’t deleted from the big tech platforms before he gets a chance to download them.
(tags: censorship syria chemical-weapons assad history youtube video archival mosireen the-syrian-archive archives memory facebook)