The Internet Archive is alerting users when they’ve clicked on some stories that were debunked or taken down on the live web, following reports that people were spreading false coronavirus information through its Wayback Machine.
As NBC reporter Brandy Zadrozny noted on Twitter, the site includes a bright banner on one popular Medium post that was removed as misinformation. Its video archive also creates friction by making users log in to see some videos containing false information, like a reposted version of the conspiracy documentary Plandemic. These videos also include critical comments from Wayback Machine director Mark Graham who described the warnings to Zadrozny as an example of the “importance and value of context in archiving.”
The Internet Archive provides an invaluable resource for understanding the internet. In 2017, it partnered with fact-checking organization First Draft News, which used the Wayback Machine to verify information online. And it’s experimented with annotating misinformation on its TV archive. In April, however, researcher Joan Donovan argued in the MIT Technology Review that the Archive was inadvertently helping spread fake stories about the novel coronavirus because users could find and share archived copies of pages (dubbed “zombie content”) that had been banned or removed by social media platforms.
It’s not clear how effective these warnings will be. Web platforms are still gauging when content alerts can help people avoid false information and when they might spark a backlash among users who don’t trust official sources. There are other web caching sites that let people preserve and share deleted content. On the Internet Archive, fans of a video can leave glowing reviews that sit alongside or above Graham’s fact-check. But the changes demonstrate that the Internet Archive is officially recognizing coronavirus misinformation as a problem and looking for ways to mitigate it.
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