In an instant. Without warning. Sound familiar?
With all the turmoil at Twitter in recent weeks, it’s a great time for an important reminder that relates to all social media.
It can all disappear in an instant.
Honestly, this applies to any site on which you post, upload, or otherwise share content. Just ask the users of the original MySpace.
Here’s what you need to know and need to do.
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Your content on someone else's service
Whenever you place content on some third party service — be it social media, file sharing and storage, or some kind of publication platform — remember that you are at that third party’s mercy. If something happens, you could lose everything you’ve posted. Be prepared for that, because while it doesn’t happen often, it can and does happen without warning and without recourse.
It’s not just social media
I want to start by pointing out that this isn’t just about social media. While Twitter has the spotlight currently, and I’m quite concerned that it might disappear (or radically change) in coming days, this is bigger than that. I’ll be using social media as my example, but the reality is:
- Any service can fail.
- You can lose access to any service you use.
- Stuff happens, taking your data with it.
So be it Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Mastodon, or something like OneDrive, Google Docs, Flickr, or others, it can all disappear in an instant. If you’re lucky, you might get warnings, but there are no guarantees.
How it can happen
Twitter is a fine case of mismanagement in action. Because much (most?) of the tech staff has been fired, Twitter is particularly vulnerable to both software and hardware failures as well as outright external attack. While it’s not likely, it’s conceivable that Twitter could suffer a failure of some sort and not be able to recover, or not be able to recover completely.
That could involve losing everything you’ve ever posted.
It might not even be gross mismanagement. Technical issues and mistakes caused MySpace to lose 13 years worth of user data.
However, gross mismanagement could easily cause a service to be shut down without warning, and without hope of recovery, for a variety of reasons.
It doesn’t have to be a service-wide issue. If your account gets hacked and all your data removed, you may not be able to regain access, and even if you do, there’s no guarantee the service will restore your data.
How to prevent it from happening
If you are an internet publisher, the only thing you can do is not publish on someone else’s site. Called “digital sharecropping”, building a business that relies on someone else’s servers, someone else’s services, or even someone else’s internet domain puts you at risk if anything ever happens to that someone else. Prevent it by publishing on your own domain and your own site, at least first.
For the rest of us, though, there’s little to prevent catastrophe, no matter how slim the chances.
Yes, you can take all the appropriate steps to keep your account as secure as possible, but that’s not enough.
You have no way to protect yourself from service failures, shutdowns, and mismanagement.
How to prepare for it happening
You can, however, prepare for things going sideways.
It’s very simple.
Remember, if it’s in only one place, it’s not backed up. That means backing up could be as simple as not deleting the photo you just uploaded to Facebook. Keep the original somewhere.1
But ultimately, it means never ever relying on someone else’s platform lasting forever. Take responsibility to ensure that anything and everything you care about can be recovered from somewhere else should you ever need to.
It’s that simple. And yes, “that simple” can involve additional work.
Carefully consider the information — text posts and commentary and media such as photos and videos — that you post to social media. Do the same for files you post to or store on any third-party service.
Now, consider that service gone in an instant without warning or hope of recovery.
If you’d lose anything important in that scenario, take steps to make sure it would be an inconvenience rather than a disaster.
And normally, that means backing up.
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Footnotes & References
1: There are a bunch of additional reasons, including photo quality, to keep your originals.