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More censorship coming to the Internet Archive, Mailchimp, GitHub and other platforms

The Internet Archive posted on their blog about implementing “fact checks” and “context” notifications on the Wayback Machine, similar to how various social media platforms such as Facebook have implemented for a while now. You may recall that I blogged a few months ago about censorship on the Internet Archive by requiring users to login to view certain content. Things are progressively getting worse, and it won’t surprise me if they start outright removing pages and banning websites on the Internet Archive soon. It looks like the same script of progressively implementing more censorship, as we’ve seen on other social media platforms, is slowly being rolled out at the Internet Archive.

‘Context’ notification on the Wayback Machine

Here’s a bit from their blog, “Fact Checks and Context for Wayback Machine Pages” (October 30th 2020):

Fact checking organizations and origin websites sometimes have information about pages archived in the Wayback Machine. The Internet Archive has started to surface some of these annotations for Wayback Machine users. We are attempting to preserve our digital history but recognize the issues around providing access to false and misleading information coming from different sources. By providing convenient links to contextual information we hope that our patrons will better understand what they are reading in the Wayback Machine.

In a different case, we surfaced the discovery that a webpage is part of a disinformation campaign according to the researchers at Graphika and link to their research report.

As a last example, the Internet Archive archived a Medium post that was subsequently removed based on a violation of their Covid-19 Content Policy.

Now is a good time to start looking for alternatives to the Internet Archive and Wayback Machine to archive important information on the Internet. There’s another similar website called Archive.today that you can use, but who knows how long that will be able to stay free from “fact checking” and censorship.

One option might be to start self-hosting your own archive using open source software such as ArchiveBox. But if that sounds like too much work you should definitely make sure to save a local copy of important webpages as a PDF document. Most desktop versions of modern browsers such as the new Microsoft Edge and Mozilla FireFox support saving webpages as PDFs via the menu or via the print functionality.

Back in March I had already urged all readers of my blog to save all the articles they like as PDF documents so that in the event that my website goes down for whatever reason, they still have access to the information. So here is another reminder: Do it now. Saving pages from my blog currently works best in the new version of Microsoft Edge, and I’ll be spending some more time in the coming days to improve and optimize this website for print/PDF output.

When various social media platforms started implementing all sorts of censorship mechanisms a few years ago, many websites being run by activists and alternative news websites started displaying banners urging their readers to subscribe to their mailing lists. This to make sure that when their accounts and pages on social media platforms were banned, they would be able to stay in touch with readers via email. Well now the elite behind all the censorship have come for their mailing lists as well. Here’s from Reclaim The Net, “Mailchimp makes its censorship rules official, outlines right to ban users for ‘inaccurate’ content” (October 29th 2020):

Customers who use Mailchimp in their business have a new arbiter of truth to contend with. […] At least Mailchimp, a US email and marketing automation service – doesn’t even try to pretend there is some objective, consensus-based way in determining what’s false and what’s true. Instead, they’re saying what many others in the tech industry are thinking and doing: “misinformation” is simply what we decide it is, because we can.

Or, as the company informed users announcing its updated terms of use – Mailchimp “does not allow the distribution of content that is, in our sole discretion, materially false, inaccurate, or misleading, in a way that could deceive or confuse others about important events, topics, or circumstances.”

The news is particularly worrying for customers as businesses who have used Mailchimp have said they were banned by Mailchimp and lost access to their email contacts.

If you’re using Mailchimp or any other similar service for managing your mailing lists, now is a good time to download and make backups of email addresses of all your subscribers before your account suddenly gets banned. In addition, it’s good to start looking for alternative ways of staying in touch with your readers. Perhaps hosting your own mailing list software, or better yet, encouraging users to start using RSS readers and providing a RSS feed for updates on your website. Most CMSs such as WordPress come with the RSS functionality built in. For example, you can find the RSS feed for my blog by clicking here, and you can use that link to subscribe to updates on my blog in any RSS reader application.

The reason why I also mention the RSS option is because I think that chances are that censorship will soon also get implemented directly in mailboxes of users using services like Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook. Those services might start displaying “fact checking” banners above emails, sending certain emails to the spam folder or outright blocking emails from certain domains. So it’s important to look for other ways to stay in touch with users. Google, for example, has already been censoring content on Google Drive and Google Docs.

GitHub recently also took down the source code of the popular youtube-dl software that’s used to download videos from platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo. I blogged about GitHub shadow banning users and blocking access to repos a few months ago. It looks like the best option in this case is to self-host your own git server and not rely on these platforms for anything important. And again, remember to save a local copy of anything important to you that you would like to continue to have access to in the future.

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