Late last week, I wrote about the paradox that is the modern Internet. On the one hand, I suggested, its lack of choke points and decentralized design means that any uploaded data can be made part of “a permanent archive, which, over time, [will] serve as a boon to historians and hoarders alike.” On the other, I noted that “because a number of the Internet’s core functions have been so aggressively centralized,” it is increasingly proving itself “to be a remarkably efficient machine for the rewriting of history.” At some point, I suggested,
physical copies of products such as newspapers, albums, movies, and video games will die out in favor of wholly ephemeral versions that are stored on remotely run servers and licensed with a key.
This matters, I submitted, because:
Pretty much everyone in the world has an incentive to change something about their history. Newspapers that make mistakes have an incentive to edit their pieces without acknowledgment; politicians who consider a given speech or appearance embarrassing have an incentive to erase it from the record; corporations that upset their customers have an incentive to make their mistakes disappear. Because people still make copies, because the Web thrives on hostile interaction, and because major events are still widely covered, it remains difficult for individual players to completely paint over the past. But it would be foolish to pretend that the digital age does not make such an endeavor easier than it has been at any other point in human history, and it would be foolish, too, to pretend that there are no examples of mass compliance with the revised narratives that result.
As Jack Crowe notes today, this also seems to have occurred to Stacey Abrams, who has managed to convince USA Today to let her write an “evolving” newspaper column:
USA Today, the quintessential middle-market American newspaper, allowed Stacey Abrams to substantially alter an op-ed criticizing Georgia’s new voting law, which was published prior to MLB’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
Abrams didn’t fix a few grammatical changes or spelling mistakes; she altered the message of the op-ed to protect herself from the charge that she encouraged MLB to pull out of Atlanta in an act of protest against the new voting law. In the original March 31 op-ed, Abrams wrote that she “can’t argue with” people who choose to boycott businesses in her state.
In the politically expedient second version, written after the Cobb County tourism board estimated that the move would cost area businesses $100 million in revenue, Abrams wrote that “Boycotts invariably cost jobs.”
“Instead of a boycott, I strongly urge other events and productions to do business in Georgia and speak out against our law and similar proposals in other states,” she wrote.
Not only did the editors at USA Today allow Abrams to rewrite her op-ed, they didn’t even append a note making readers aware of the revision until two weeks after the changes had been made — and only after a prominent Republican consultant called them out on Twitter.
I rest my case.