Digital Decay: Nearly 4 in 10 of Decade-Old Web Pages No Longer Accessible

A new study by Pew Research Center finds that many web pages from a decade ago are disappearing, indicating that no information on the internet is permanent. This means that even a floppy disk may see the next decade, but chances of many web pages operating by then are low. About 38% of the web pages that existed in 2013 are no longer accessible, and many pages created at that time have disappeared.

We can call this “Digital Decay,” as much information and news from a decade ago is not accessible. Even many links on Wikipedia show a 404 error. Upon searching 500,000 government sites, 21% of them had links that were no longer functioning. Some 2,063 news aggregators had 23% broken links, and about 50,000 English Wikipedia samples had 54% reference links that were no longer working.

Pew Research Center also studied Twitter (now X) in this regard and found that out of 4.8 million tweets from March 8 to April 27, 2023, 18% were no longer accessible on the platform by June 15. Sixty percent of those tweets disappeared because the accounts also disappeared for multiple reasons like deletion, deactivation, or suspension. Researchers also found that tweets in languages other than English disappeared quickly over the study period. For instance, 49% of tweets in Turkish and 42% of tweets in Arabic disappeared because the profiles from which those tweets came also disappeared. Only 6% of those tweets reappeared, probably because the user switched their account from private to public.

There are two main reasons why content on the internet is disappearing: either there is a switch in publication, or the publication becomes no longer available. Either way, the disappearance of web pages and other content is alarming as it is a waste of the hard work of many people.

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