Photographs from a historic moment in tech news history, the day a Gizmodo reporter published hands-on pics of the then-not-yet-announced iPhone 4, are now missing. Gawker claims that they are not the only missing photos from G/O Media sites such as Jalopnik, Deadspin, and The Onion.
Gawker recently reported that Buzzfeed also removed older images from the internet. Buzzfeed's motives for doing this are still evident after management explained that copyright claims were made on photos that they deemed high-risk.
These cases illustrate link rot. This is when content on the internet has been drastically altered because it disappears completely or because some essential parts have disappeared.
The landmark tech news story Link Rot is a highlight of tech news history
A prototype iPhone 4 was presented to tech journalists as a crash course in 2010. The photos were a major part of the event. The phones' brand-new design was shown to the public before Steve Jobs could announce it. The police raided an editor's home and caused chaos (all legal documents Gizmodo had posted in that article are gone). Now those photos are being re-enacted in drama.
G/O Media employees have not been provided with a reason for the disappearance of photos and artwork from their articles. Apparently, the leaders of the company didn't warn them. Gawker suggests that the disappearance could be due copyright concerns. This is based on its report about Buzzfeed doing it.
It is also interesting to note the timing of sites ownership. This could have an impact on copyright in other ways. Gawker says that images were taken from articles published before the site became part of G/O Media. Many of these sites were part of Gizmodo Media before they were bought by the private equity firm that now owns them. This entity was created from the ashes Gawker Media's (in some way related to the recent Gawker reporting). To make a long and complicated story short, the affected articles seemingly predate the companys heavily-criticized-from-within current owners.
G/O Media did not immediately respond to a request.
Someone will lose something they love if so much of their content is gone
It doesn't matter what the reason, it seems that the disappearance so much of internet history touched a nerve. Bryan Menegus, a Verge alumnus, pointed out via Twitter that a Gizmodo article featuring an Amazon anti-union video was missing its vital images. Another user on Twitter pointed out that a Kotaku article regarding game preservation is missing its art. Other examples are also available: There are many Onion articles that have seen their jokes destroyed. A Verge colleague pointed to the fact that rare photos of an abandoned power plant that we once admired are gone. Former reviewers are now talking about how it seems like all of the work they put into taking these photos is now wasted.
There have been many cases of link rot. One notable example is when Twitter banned the then-president Donald Trump's news articles that included his tweets as proof or context.
Recent research found that 25% of deep links, or links to specific pages in digital New York Times articles, no longer link to the content they were supposed to. Many explanations are not dramatic. A page could have changed URLs, been deleted, or a website may have gone down because no one cared. Although there have been instances where scammers deliberately hijacked dead URLs to gain unsuspecting clicks it is often just an example of internet entropy. However, the end result is the same content that was once available but is no longer accessible.
The web is constantly changing for the better and worse
Although link rot is common, it's still a serious problem if you plan to use the internet to access a vast repository of knowledge. You will have the same experience if you read a magazine published 50 years ago as someone who bought it that day. You can do the same thing with an article on the internet from just a few years ago and you'll be rolling the dice.
The Internet Archive has made valiant attempts to save bits of internet history. You can read the iPhone 4 article with photos intact on Groups WayBack Machine, but that's all they can do. If something fundamental changes about the web or companies take preservation seriously, important things will be lost.