What the Myspace data loss debacle tells us about how the internet values creative content

The news that Myspace lost 12 years of user-generated content during a botched server migration has prompted a lot of debate this week, which Caroline Donnelly picks over here. 

When details of Myspace’s server migration snafu broke free from Reddit, where the incident has been discussed and known about for the best part of a year, the overriding reaction on Twitter was one of disbelief.

In no particular order, there was the shock at the size of the data loss, which equates to 12 years of lost uploads (or 50 million missing songs), and the fact these all disappeared because Myspace didn’t back the files up before embarking on its “server migration”. Or its backup procedures failed.

There was also a fair amount of surprise expressed that Myspace is still a thing that exists online, which might explain why it took so long for the rest of the internet to realise what had gone down there.

And now they have, the response online has been (predictably) snarky. Myspace, for its part, issued a brief statement apologising for any inconvenience caused by its large-scale data deletion, but that’s been the extent of its public response to the whole thing.

That in itself is quite interesting. The fact a company can lose 12 years of user data, and shrug it off so nonchalantly. Obviously it would be a completely different state of affairs if it was medical records or financial data the company had accidentally scrubbed from its servers.

Digital legacy destruction

What the situation does serve to highlight though is how precarious our digital legacies are for one thing. In amongst all the nostalgia-laden Twitter jokes from people who used Myspace, back when it was at the height of its social networking power, there was also a smattering of genuinely distraught posts from people dismayed at what they had lost.

Individuals who had been prolific Myspace songwriters over the years, who had lost sizeable data dumps of content. In many cases these people had  trusted Myspace at its word when it said it was working on restoring access to their files,  as complaints about playback issues on the site first started to surface back in early 2018.

These are people who have spent a long time curating content that made it possible for Myspace to double-down on its efforts to become a music streaming site, long after the people who first flocked to the site for social networking had hot-footed it to Facebook and Twitter.

I guess the incident should act as a timely reminder that uploading your data to a social networking site is not the same as backing it up, and if you don’t have other copies of this content stored somewhere else, that’s on you.

It’s not exactly helpful, though, and it doesn’t make the situation any less gutting for the people whose data has been lost forever.

There also seems to be an attitude pervading all this that because it’s just “creative content” that has gone, what’s the harm? I mean, can’t you just make more?

It’s a curious take that highlights – perhaps – how little value society places on creative content that’s made freely available online, while also ignoring the time and effort it takes for people to make this stuff. Also a lot of it is off its time, making it impossible for its makers to recreate it.

Analysing Myspace’s response

There has been speculation that Myspace’s nonchalant attitude to losing so much of its musical content could be down to the fact the deletion was more strategic than accidental.

This is a view put forward by ex-Kickstarter, CTO Andy Baio, who said the firm might be blaming the data loss on a botched server migration because it sounds better than it admitting it “can’t be bothered with the effort and cost of migrating and hosting 50 million old MP3s,” in a Twitter post.

And there could be something in that. It is, perhaps, telling that it has taken so long for details of the data loss to be made public, given Myspace users claim they first started seeing notifications about the botched server migration around eight months ago.

That was about five or six months after reports of problems accessing old songs and video content began to circulate on the web forum, Reddit, with Myspace claiming – at the time – that it was in the throes of a “maintenance project” that might cause content playback issues.

Meanwhile, the site’s news pages do not appear to have been updated since 2015, its Twitter feed last shared an update in 2017, and Computer Weekly’s requests for comment and clarification have been met with radio silence.

The site looks pretty much in the throes of a prolonged and staggered wind-down, which – in turn – shows the dangers of assuming the web entities we entrust our content to today will still be around tomorrow.

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