The frightening thing about the 100YearsAgoLive incident is that it’s not hard to see this becoming a trend, where history itself is deemed to violate common decency. The whole idea of historical education is to prevent future horrors via graphic warnings from the past. Survivors of the Holocaust have always been adamant that we must “Never Forget,” that places such as Auschwitz must never be buried or hidden away but instead displayed prominently, made into lasting cultural artifacts whose purpose is to be so conspicuous as to prevent the natural human impulse to whitewash our sadly expansive history of evil.
In the name of combating hate speech, violence, conspiracy theory, etc., Internet platforms are removing not just advocacy, but knowledge, in a wide-ranging effort that may help the companies create a more frictionless, commercially successful product, but will impede the past from chastening the present. If the aim is preventing the spread of hateful ideas, nothing could be more counter-productive that cleaning away the record of their real-world impact.
This 100YearsAgoLive episode seems like a silly glitch at first, a parody of Internet censorship, but it’s no joke — if we’re going to put machines in charge of cleaning our mental universes, the past is going to be one of the first casualties.