Thursday, March 23, 2023

The rush to archive footage of the Capitol uprising before it went away

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As a violent crowd incited by President Donald Trump stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, interrupting proceedings in Congress to officially certify Joe Biden as president-elect, a Redditor with the username Adam Lynch has begun. a wire on the r / DataHoarder subreddit – a forum dedicated to backing up data that may be erased or deleted. “Archiving videos before potential deletion from various websites…” it started.

The thread included a link to upload files to Mega, a New Zealand-based cloud storage service. Within minutes, the feed was so inundated with Twitter links, Snapchat downloads, and other videos that Mega briefly closed the link. Since reopening, the Reddit thread has received over 2,000 comments with detailed data about the incident.

Lynch (who asked to be identified only by her username, citing death threats) is Canadian and was shocked to see the footage of Washington. After seeing videos, posts and live streams being quickly removed by platforms and users fearing repercussions following the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Lynch felt the urgency to archive this new data as soon as possible: “I knew I had to start immediately.

Livestreams were disabled by newscasting platforms and networks during the Capitol attack, and companies like Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Twitter have since had it. systematically deleted posts that violate the rules for violent or inflammatory content. While Redditors send content, Lynch has spent hours each day uploading it to Mega, as well as offline hard drives for backup.

“If it wasn’t for the [Reddit] wire, I am convinced that a substantial part of this project would not be preserved, ”says Lynch. But many others are also working to protect information before it goes missing. An Instagram account, @homegrownterrorists, garnered around 242,000 subscribers, crowdsourcing efforts to identify crowd members. (The account was briefly disabled and cleared of posts; it was reactivated and started posting regular links to news articles on January 8. The account owner did not respond to a request for comment.) The journalism site Bellingcat, which specializes in surveys based on publicly available online documents, has invited the public to contribute to a publicly editable google links spreadsheet, and the Awakened collective protects live broadcasts from deletion by posting them to its own YouTube and Twitch accounts. Other companies, like the European search engine Intelligence X, also collect and store data.

These efforts are distinguished by their broad reach, says Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist from McGill University who studies the politics and ethics of piracy. “Places like Reddit were really central in the past [for doxxing, or revealing people’s identifying information] and continue to be, because you get subredits and threads where everyone contributes special efforts, ”Coleman says. “The difference now is that people share this information on Twitter, and once that person is identified, that information is much more visible. It was just before [hacktivist group] Anonymous who did this.

Coleman says Anonymous’s efforts were once considered extreme, but with each fleeting protest the doxxing has become more common. “Of course you also have groups like Bellingcat who are like hobbyist professionals when it comes to open source intelligence formalized in an organization,” Coleman says. “But you keep seeing masses of people gathering online [and doxx]. “

This creates ethical dilemmas. The currently archived data could haunt the people in the photos for years to come, even if they waive or later pay criminal penalties for their actions. On r / DataHoarder, for example, someone asked, “Do you think it is ethical to preserve content that features someone who now wants the content to be no longer public?”

I asked Lynch if it was hypocritical for someone working to expose members of the crowd to ask a reporter for anonymity.

“I believe that people have the right to protest and to share their voice,” was the response. “If they [mob members] wanted to protect their identity, they could easily have worn a mask or not been broadcast live. But they weren’t wearing a ski mask, not even a Covid mask.

“I think a lot of these factors depend on the context,” Coleman says. “If you engage in an activity that aims to draw attention to the activity itself and you don’t take precautions to hide your identity, it’s understandable that people take that information and make it public.”

Lynch, who plans to submit the data to the Library of Congress, believes this activity preserves history, saying, “We can only store what the world gives us. We are just librarians.

Fixed: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Reddit moderators closed the thread on r / DataHoarder, rather than Mega closing the download link.


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