A Major Problem With The Internet No One Is Talking About

By Toby Tunwase

Image: Shutterstock

Until the advent of the internet, archiving anything was done primarily through writing it down by hand – first on stones, then on parchment, papyrus, and eventually the paper we use today. Temples, libraries, and vaults protected these books against war, decay, and theft for centuries. Some materials have survived thousands of years thanks to this approach. And as time went on and printing presses were everywhere, if one storehouse failed, the knowledge held within would not be lost because multiple copies were stored in multiple libraries. When documents were secretly altered, they could be compared with other copies to detect the alteration and fix it.

The internet brought improvements to storage methods. In addition, trillions of other relevant documents could be linked online – an upgrade to the scope of the older, physical libraries. With the click of a finger, information now flows freely, in a way similar to magic.

However, one problem arose – the internet began to rot. We’re not talking about the perverse or adult content sites that anyone can access, although there’s that, too. But links within the internet have rotted, meaning that websites have been modified or scrapped altogether without warning. Princeton University researchers found that between 1994 and 2016, 75 percent of scholarly article references had rotted.

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When some links cease to work, what happens to articles or research journals that cited them as references?

And the bigger question is: did the authors save their drafts? Surely they did. Also, are there physical copies of all of these articles? What happens if there is a huge crash? It’s truly frightening to consider.