Preserving Internet History with the Internet Archive

Preserving Internet History with the Internet Archive

Just in case you have failed to notice, the subject that is absolutely dominating the news today is politics. It is everywhere and you cannot escape it—even in the world of technology.

 

Four years ago, in the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it was noted that there was activity on Wikipedia.org that turned out to be predictive of whom the presidential candidates would choose as vice-presidential running mates. (Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia anyone can edit.) Hundreds of changes were made by users to sanitize the bios of all the candidates, most of which were done for Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, and those two individuals were the eventual choices for vice president.

 

For the current election cycle, it seems this story is only half as interesting as last time because only one party is involved in choosing a running mate. The sitting vice president seems sure to be chosen to run again, so that leaves only the Democratic Party to choose a new vice-presidential candidate.

 

Wikipedia seems to be putting the odds on Senator Kamala Harris of California. Her Wikipedia page has received edits and has revised to remove unflattering history, such as her decision as California Attorney General not to prosecute Steve Mnuchin (Treasury Secretary) for mortgage fraud-related crimes and her support of Orange County officials who engaged in rampant prosecutorial misconduct.

 

There is a little-known website that makes it possible to go back in time and, in many cases, lets you see what a webpage said before it was censored. The Wayback Machine, found at web.archive.org, is a website of the Internet Archive, dedicated to preserving the otherwise ephemeral history of the Internet. Here it is possible to go back and look at how primitive some popular websites were 20 years ago. It is also where you can go if you care to research what information has now been removed (for whatever reason) and is no longer found in someone’s Wikipedia bio.

 

To do that, you simply need to visit Kamala Harris’s Wikipedia page to copy its address, “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamala_Harris.” Then call up wayback.archive.org and paste that address into the box. You will then be shown a calendar of more than 600 dates on which previous versions of the page were backed up. You can go back to any earlier date to read the information which was there before but is no longer available. If you care to do so, you could plug “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Trump” into the Wayback Machine to see what has been removed from the President’s current Wikipedia page. At last count, there were 7,677 earlier versions of his page saved by users.

 

If the Internet Archive continues to exist without it too being edited, it will prove to be an invaluable resource for future historians.

 

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email at FAQ8@SMAguru.com.

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