The living web is fluid. Accept that things may be different tomorrow. I’m happy for individual bloggers to edit or delete posts from their blogs, or for journalists to update an article in a newspaper throughout the day as new information or spelling errors are found. Rewriting a statement, after being challenged on it, so that it says the opposite of what it first said, is beyond this living fluidity. Some websites in particular want us to trust them completely, and we expect that we can hold them accountable. Goverment sites publishing information for the public who elected them foremost among them. Whitehouse.gov’s record of the speech Bush gave on May 1, titled “President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended” should not be retitled to include the word “Major” in front of “Combat” as soon as it’s obvious that combat had not come to an end.
An article in the Washington Post on White House Web Scrubbing conveniently gathers a dozen or two cases such as these. Vika linked it a couple of weeks ago, stating then that it was not new, but like her, I want to document it. Most people I’ve spoken to have not heard of this. I’d like them to know. A few weeks earlier, Scott pointed out a site that collects pre-edited and pre-deleted documents from The White House: The Memory Hole, noting a few ominous examples.
Ted Nelson, coiner of the word hypertext, famously wanted a network where every version of every document was kept forever, with an address that would remain the same whether the publisher changed servers or published a new version. That, obviously, hasn’t happened, and in most cases I’m glad of it. I like the impermanence of pixels. If individuals publish without publishers one of their privileges should be to unpublish, I think, although of course, once published, someone will probably have stored a copy. For Norwegian sites the National Library will have, and Archive.org stores a copy of at least the front page of almost every site I’ve ever searched it for. You can request not to be archived here, though.
I don’t like our governments rewriting history. That is entirely different.