User:Nadiners/ unpublishingthesis

From XPUB & Lens-Based wiki


The Paradox of Unpublishing


In order to Unpublish you might want to remove an online content from your intimate past that may no longer seem relevant, and could potentially affect your future. Or you might be working for a not so ethical corporation where some documents are to be removed in order to conceal a particular content from the public. In another scenario, you could decide to remove another persons content for copyright infringement, which could possibly earn you some extra cash on the way. How about keeping to your nations values and removing images of female nipples for the protection of fellow citizens?

Whatever your reason might be to commit the act of unpublishing, or intentionally remove content from the online public sphere, you’re walking into a world full of paradoxes.

Before entering the topic I would like to introduce the definition of the verb To Unpublish, as I type this word my autocorrection refuses to recognise it, marking it red or switching to the adjective Unpublished. It is a fairly new verb introduced in the online Oxford Dictionary:

"Make (content that has previously been published online) unavailable to the public.”

  • Once the images have been published on the internet it will be practically impossible for any court order to unpublish them.’
  • ‘After an outcry on Twitter, the magazine unpublished the column, but the editors at the blog Retraction Watch managed to find a cached version, reminding us all that the internet never forgets.’

(The Oxford Dictionary)1

The exemplery sentences are very telling. There is an emphasis on this verb existing online. Before the internet if you wanted to get rid of a certain content you would burn, hide, physically destroy the publication, but using the word unpublishing would seem absurd. On the internet, it makes more sense, it is undoing or removing, not necessarily destroying or deleting.

The act of unpublishing or the intentional disappearance of content from the online public sphere, raises many questions. Who wants to unpublish what and for what reason? Who is in power to decide what can be unpublished? Is it truly possible to unpublish?

An individuals contemporary online presence is in fact a trail of digital content they are unknowingly publishing about themselves. Even itinerant data such as location information, searches, and private messages are stored in databases, and formulates a data presence that is not only incredibly valuable to corporations but also reveals a tremendous amount of information about the individual. This phenomena should evidently lead to a process whereby, a person can empower themselves with this data in the act of deletion. However, there is no paradigm to do this, and it is in fact incredibly difficult to do so.

Similarly large corporations have a lot of confidential data, that is somehow considered more valuable than an individuals. They are more aware and in control of their information, as for them the impact may be economically and politically more problematic, if it were to be revealed. This does not mean that deleting their information is any easier, however they have more power to control their information, as well as to decide on the individuals fate. A company would only be concerned about removing their confidential information from the public, not necessarily deleting it altogether. Cease and decease threats is a method to ensure the data remains concealed.

For individuals, they are mostly unaware, only if a specific case happens where a person finds their unwanted content going viral, their alarm bells would go off, when it would be too late. Even after the implementation of the law the right to be forgotten, to remove something entirely from the internet would prove to be an impossible task.

The past

Before the internet the term might not have existed but the intentions of removing content from the public were very much the same. The Parthenon of Books by Marta Minujin2 is a reconstruction of the Parthenon made with 100,000 once-banned books, and situated on the 1930s site of the book burning in Kassel. The very fact that these books are still around after all the attempts to censor them proves the difficulty of ‘unpublishing’ much earlier than the internet.

Why Unpublish?

  • Individuals might have personal images, or no longer relevant content about them
  • companies or large entities wanting to hide something from the public
  • infringement of copyrights laws
  • content moderatoration by powerful companies (Facebook, Google)
  • avoid web crawlers (robots.txt)

What are the arguments supporting the paradox of unpublishing?

  • “The right to be forgotten” the law implemented in Europe, acknowledges the difficulty of unpublishing content online.
  • The Streisant effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.
  • Guardian editors destroying Snowden hard drives - "The government's response to the leak was initially slow – then increasingly strident. Rusbridger told government officials that destruction of the Snowden files would not stop the flow of intelligence-related stories since the documents existed in several jurisdictions."
  • Blockchain Technology
  • Net Neutrality - Net neutrality and self organization are not in themselves sufficient to effectively prevent all forms of predatory practices like pedophilia, terrorism and totalitarianism. Nor do these libertarian principles safeguard privacy, as confidential information can easily be revealed for the sake of ‘transparency’ or commercial gain. (the Ends of the Internet)3

Counter argument/examples

  • Estonia: The most wired country in the world severed its international electronic connections and largely disappeared from the internet, bringing what military historians now call the first internet war to an abrupt halt. It was a decisive victory for whoever had perpetrated the attacks. To survive in the era of information warfare, every society will have to create ways of withstanding cyber-attacks. Blockchain technology, the underlying protocol of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, might for example function as a sort of digital fortress protecting the secure exchange of information online.
  • Freedom of Expression - In our present age, no matter which principles are upheld or which rights are enshrined in law, no society in the world grants an absolute freedom of expression. The Ends of the Internet by Boris Beaude
  • 4chan, a place where things can disappear...The guiding ethos of /b/ is to "post something that can never be unseen" by Anonymous member
  • Those who have the power to decide what can be unpublished, patrolling the web for child pornography and extremist content but also female nipples and political activists anything they deem unfavourable. They are building tools to make it harder to republish the censored content by using hashes and digital signatures.



7th Dec

Thesis statement: it is impossible to unpublish online.

How so?

What are the consequences?

What mitigates against this? (unpublishing)

What are the arguments for? (Law, technology &c.)

What are the arguments against? (what arguments support your thesis?= why is it impossible to unpublish)

To discuss a defined title I can stick to!

dedicated page to titles


I will begin with the definition of Upublishing, as it will outline the form and ideas of the thesis. The definition will also keep the text more concentrated towards unpublished online content that must have been previously published. I will go on to describe the various reasons why people (or bots, who are programmed by people) unpublish content, which will treat the subjects from censorship to humans rights. the grey areas, content moderators being the police of online content, they are told they are protecting the public but when does it become sensorship? who writes the rules? Then I will go on to talk about the power that lies behind any act of unpublishing. Large tech corporations can control and manipulate individuals right up to politicians. give examples (Trump's twitter deleted for 11 mins). But then mention that trying to Unpublish (anything relevant at least) will in fact create more information and content around it, (Streisand effect). for public as well as personal. New technology such as Blockchain, has great advantages for security and decentralized information but also now makes sure nothing can be deleted or modified. Throughout the text I will investigate what it means to unpublish online today, whether it can be done and by whom.

9th November 2017


The Unpublishing House

dedicated page to titles

I bought the domain and it works!

argument (1 sentence)

The act of unpublishing or the intentional disappearance of content from the online public sphere, and the asymmetrical power structures not permitting this very act to exist. “hybrid” or “nonlinear”

how to introduce the topic (1/2 sentence)

(think about the reader) define the verb ‘to unpublish', how it did not exist before the internet times, give different examples of different ways and power structures can unpublish content, from individuals to companies, to states to robots.

why do you want to write your text (body of text, scope)

Today there is so much (digital and analogue, but more digital) content produced in the world, recurrent topics such as archiving and big data are dealing with this issue. But I would like to deal with the opposite, unpublishing, removing or destroying this excessive amount of nonsense we bring into the world. On the other hand there is important content that is being unpublished with bad intentions. By removing anything no matter where your intentions lie, you in fact bring more attention to what is being ‘removed’ thus producing more content... a vicious cycle is created, and we are doomed. And this is what I would like to talk about, the very fact that today what I would like to talk about is in fact an impossibility, a paradox, a never ending story.

How will you go about writing it

The Unpublishing house will be a place for discussion. I will write a manifesto integrated to the thesis, disguised as titles, all the while being relevant, of course. An idea: to use imperatives. instructions/commandments. a form of power, which might then dissolve in the following text.

Remove those drunken photos you uploaded of yourself back when you were 16 and you thought it was cool.

This chapter will talk about the right to be forgotten, the EU law, and state the fact that even though you might have gone through the process of removing your content, it can still be out there.. once it’s gone viral, it’s impossible to find all the sources and delete them, let alone to unseen them.

Deactivate Trump’s twitter account for 11 minutes. An eternity online, and you will storm the internet with reactions.

Trying to shut someone up will only make them react more, psychological effects.


Give and example of digital content that can be destroyed: the guardian destroying Snowden’s files

what supports your argument

But then so many reactions came to life from the Snowden story, so even if the original content is destroyed, all the mediators and reactors made this destroyed content come to life in a different larger form.

conclusion that recaps point

If a subject would like to remove something about oneself, they bring attention to the content by asking for it to be removed. If a corporation deletes it's own content, it will eventually be discovered by journalists bringing attention to the public as the mediator, the public will then react on social media and the subject will get viral. In another case if something has been removed yet attracts no particular reaction then it is proving its worth. Reactions don't have to be immediate, they can also appear long after the act, but in the online world things happen much faster than we can follow.

suggestions opening up

So does this verb that didn’t exist a decade ago, can it ever exist?



Twitter Trump

Snowden destroyed files

Facebook content Monitors:

Artwork by Eva and Franco Mattes:


Seppukoo - suicide machine

first ideas


Begin with a clear mission statement, a sort of manifesto (which could also be part of the project)

I would like to investigate the reverse of publishing – unpublishing – and compare its different impacts from large scale national content to individual cases. When a certain material goes offline, it sparks up reactions, meaning the content that has previously been published, only attracts more attention once it has been intentionally removed.

This raises the question, does unpublishing exist in the online world?

This can be investigated in a variety of cases. If a subject would like to remove something about oneself, they bring attention to the content by asking for it to be removed. If a corporation deletes it's own content, it will eventually be discovered by journalists bringing attention to the public as the mediator, the public will then react on social media and the subject will get viral. In another case if something has been removed yet attracts no particular reaction then it is proving its worth. Reactions don't have to be immediate, they can also appear long after the act, but in the online world things happen much faster than we can follow.


First I’d like to define the term, the verb ’to unpublish' only exists online. It refers to content that has been published online, and then made unavailable to the public. Print is harder to unpublish, it might be removed from shelves or destroyed, but once it is published, or distributed to the public, it would be harder to remove it from the public sphere. Let us not confuse removing content to deleting content, digital unpublishing relates more to the removal of a particular content. Deleting might refer to destruction, no longer available to anyone. Removal, refers to the public sphere not being able to reach the certain information.

previous work

This thematic comes from a reversal of my previous topics of interest, where I dealt with the revealing or highlighting unpublished or leaked documents. In one project I collected three different documents relating to drone attack, one being the instruction manual, the second a transcript from leaked audio files of pilots talking during an attack in Afghanistan, and the third was a list of the resulting number of deaths from each attack that was recorded. In another project I created a food wiki where I would collect processed factory packed foods and divide the information found on the packing (on the surface) to information about the corporation (under the surface) in order to make it easier for consumers to know what is in and where their products come from, at the same time revealing the industries secrets.

unpublishing in history

Large scale: Burning books

Individual scale: ?

relevant points

The right to be forgotten only applied in the EU

Self Publishing