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November 11, 2003

Revisionist History on the Web, again

First, Time magazine surreptitiously pulls an article from their website where Bush Sr describes why invading Iraq was a bad idea. Then, Merriam-Webster's online dictionary pulls the newly-published definition of McJobs following complaints from McDonalds.

This is worrying, and not just for the obvious political reasons. There's no doubt the Internet has revolutionized the way we as a society disseminate and ingest information, and is an improvement on the days of journals and libraries. But at least in the print media there is an automatic audit trail when documents are edit after the fact of being published. You can see an article clipped from a newspaper, or the black ink of redaction in a classified document. But on the Web, documents can disappear, and the seams mended without a trace. In the Time case, even the reference to the Bush Sr article in the table of contents was deleted! Unless somebody notices, documents deleted from the web are simply gone from the collective consciousness. (Do you really think researchers and historians will be using anything other than electronic media in the next decade or so?) It's chilling to think that history is changing before our eyes to an extent we probably don't even know.

Posted by david at November 11, 2003 08:52 AM | TrackBack
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Comments

well, at least merriam-webster found their spine today.

i agree with you on the larger point, though, of the scariness of revising history. once information is electronic-only, it makes it that much easier.

one of my favorite political writers, gregg easterbrook, used to also write a football column for espn.com. when he was fired last month (for something he wrote on his separate blog), the entire archive of his columns disappeared. it's as if he never wrote them.

Posted by: jason on November 11, 2003 02:51 PM
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