Listen, I’m not here to lecture anyone. This is a lesson I learned the hard way, not once, not twice, but three times. I know for a fact that if I have read my own advice years ago, it would still take me losing everything I own (digitally) to actually learn the lesson, rather than from some stranger’s random “word of wisdom” on the internet.
With that said, I still decided to write this piece to:
If you are reading these words, I have a few guesses about you:
You probably are under the age of 35
You have spent the majority of your adult life, if not all of it, on social media in particular, and the internet at large
You likely would cry if one day you woke up and curiously lost access to one (or God forbid, more) of these accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, Whatsapp, Telegram, or Tiktok.
Now imagine this - that last scenario I talked about- it may will happen. It’s not a matter of “if”, but “when”. Here’s how “Why Fish Don’t Exist”’s Author Lulu Miller put it:
“Chaos is the only sure thing in this world. The master that rules us all. My scientist father taught me early that there is no escaping the Second Law of Thermodynamics: entropy is only growing, it can never be diminished, no matter what we do.”
Years ago - I used to have a blog, hosted exclusively on a platform called Yahoo 360 (kids - if you have never heard of this platform - don’t bother. It wasn’t very good anyway). I spent time decorating the blog, writing random thoughts that crossed the mind of a teenager, as well as posted family vacation photos. I never really checked the traffic of the blog (I don’t think I even knew how to do that). But I remember it being a pretty important part of my life. Probably got something to do with self-expression and teen-angst if you ask me. I kept up with it for about a year or two. It was my first legit “digital diary” before social media was a thing.
Then, when the parent company Yahoo struggled and decided to kill their blogging division, I lost all of my content, alongside millions of other unsuspecting users.
Fast forward about 10 years later, I repeated the same mistake with yet another Yahoo product, Yahoo Mail. A lot of my life in that subsequent decade was captured on Yahoo Mail, like those of many other people in developing countries like Vietnam. I went to a high school in India, living and learning with friends from 80+ different countries all around the world (from places I never even heard of like Mauritius or Maldives). I fell in love for the first time with someone from a different country, and did the long distance thing for the majority of our relationship. I went to the States for college, wrote many academic essays, and experienced heartbreak for the first time. In those 10 years, I must have handed in hundreds of assignments and drafts with teachers, exchanged thousands of messages, links and photos with friends, written numerous long heart-felt letters to family at home, and used it as my major source of communication with my ex-es.
I woke up one day, now in my late 20s, with a husband and kid, to learn that that entire decade of my life was essentially erased. Yahoo Mail just decided one day that, if you haven’t logged in to their service in x amount of time, all your content, poof, gone. Like that period of your life had never even existed.
My latest feud with the internet came in the form of another blogging platform, Medium.com. As the co-owner and show-runner of HackerNoon, I hate it whenever I even have to mention the site Medium, so I will just give you a tl;dr version: They fucked us bad, threatening to steal all the content off our site. They emailed literal misinformation to our writers. So, on top of moving our entire business away from a bad partner (company valuation is up more than 130X since we stopped publishing with Medium), I too personally packed my metaphorical bag and stopped blogging there. At that point, I have written 9 out of 10 blog posts in a series I titled “10 things I knew to be true.” Oh well. I guess the 10th thing was: Medium.com is not a good business and you should never blog there.
What is your digital lifeline at the moment? Your Instagram stories you poured your heart into? Your Tweet threads and Favorites? Your long statuses on Facebook? Your brilliant Tiktok reactions?
You might be under the illusion that your content is safe forever on these platforms, but the sad truth is you do not own any of these platforms. They all have brilliant lawyers who make sure their Terms and Conditions (you know, those things you never read?) are broad enough to cover their asses when users data either got leaked or worse, lost.
Case in point: Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp were down today for 5 hours (we wrote about it here a bit), causing a bit of an internet mayhem. We’re still yet to get to the postmortem of the whole thing, but initial speculations is that millions of users and businesses lost income, Facebook stock went down by almost 6 points, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg allegedly lost 7 billions in a few hours.
The thing is, this was and will not be the first time such a thing happened to your beloved social media platform of choice. Facebook might be the butt of the joke today, but tomorrow it could be literally any other platform. One day, it could be just an innocent “internal error” (jury’s still out on whether or not this is related to Facebook’s whistle blower testimonial just the day prior) or an actual malicious attack.
We all know how sophisticated and advanced these ransomware and cyberattacks are getting. No one’s data is truly safe. Just earlier today, I listened to a Wall Street Journal Podcast episode on how a Russian ransomware allegedly led to the death of a newborn! Scary world out there.
Here’s a nonexclusive list of what I’ve started doing and will continue to do. I hope you do too.
Always save an “offline” record of your online content
Periodically download your content on these platforms. Even screenshots as receipts are better than none.
Spend some time actually reading the Terms and Conditions of the platform you use (I’m still working on this one), they often sneak in unfavorable clauses at unsuspecting time without you noticing.
If you can’t destroy ’em, join ’em. Do not pour all your heart and soul in one single platform. Diversify your digital footage. Think about it like distribution channels. I’ll give you the example of the arguably smartest artist in the music industry at the moment, . When losing the Recording Copyright to 6 of her first albums (which she signed when was still a teenager) but still retaining the Composition Copyright, she cleverly decided to re-record all of them. She started doing so with the album Fearless and just a few days in, the album already climbed to Billboard top 1, like most of her albums usually do, surpassing the original album which she recorded 7 years ago and did not own the recording right to. So, #BeLikeTaylor. Treat all platforms (even HackerNoon) as DISTRIBUTION CHANNELS rather than Center Stage Host. No platform should ever own your content or have exclusive rights to it. You do.
In the meantime, if you have any tips/ideas on how to download your entire Instagram library and host it elsewhere (yes, I’m still guilty of over-reliance on that one platform 🙄), I’m all ears!
Until next time, repeat after me (preferably in the voice of Michael Scott):
Don't ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone for any reason ever, no matter what, no matter where, or who, or who you are with, or where you are going, or where you've been... ever, for any reason whatsoever... HOST YOUR CONTENT EXCLUSIVELY ON ONE SINGLE PLATFORM!!!!!
Originally published on my blog here.