The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What the huge loss of old Myspace music means for Internet culture

The tremendous loss of digital artifacts involving such companies as Myspace, Flickr and Google+ highlights the impermanence of the Web. (Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images)

The most surprising thing people may learn about Myspace this week is that it still exists. But the old social network’s accidental purge of 12 years’ worth of its users’ music uploads — that’s an estimated 50 million songs — is probably a close second.

The tremendous loss of digital artifacts, such as the Flickr photo annihilation, the Tumblr porn purge and the coming Google+ disintegration, highlights the impermanence of the Web, and the ease with which files and posts that helped define Internet culture and history can be so readily discarded.

In the case of Myspace, the loss of the uploads appears accidental. “As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from Myspace,” the company said in a statement. “We apologize for the inconvenience.”

But in other prominent examples of disposed Web content, the deletions and bans were and will be intentional.

Google decided to shutter its social network after a security flaw compromised hundreds of thousands of accounts, potentially exposing the personal information of its users. Google+ users were given 10 months to download and move their data ahead of the site’s planned shutdown in April.

In December, Tumblr gave only two weeks’ notice of its intent to ban all explicit adult content and nudity from its website. As of last month, any files uploaded to the photo storage site Flickr beyond the 1,000-item threshold for free accounts risked deletion.

Taken together, the bans, purges and deletions of years’ worth of online material represent a loss that is hard to absorb — blending the disappearance of intangible artifacts, art, music, communities and novel forms of communication.

Some archiving experts see the Myspace episode as another sign of the risk of relying on Internet platforms to host people’s cherished content. As Vox reported, the nonprofit Internet Archive’s Jason Scott sees Myspace as a harbinger of things to come. “Anyone who doesn’t think this is going to happen with YouTube is kidding themselves,” he said recently on Twitter. Scott criticized both MySpace’s handling of its lost files, and Google’s decision to shut down Google+.

Myspace and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Before it was sold and resold, Los Angeles-based Myspace was a popular, pioneering social network before Facebook swelled into the juggernaut of the Web. The lost files had been uploaded from 2003 — the year of the company’s birth — to 2015, representing more than 50 million songs by 14 million artists.

In response to the shuttering of Google+, the Internet Archive and a collection of archivists, programmers and writers known as the Archive Team announced an effort this month to preserve public posts on the social network before they are shuttered in April.