The Hidden Archives of the Permaweb
Every dictatorship – and their countering resistance movements – know: information is power.
Depending on which side of history you’re on and how it’s wielded, information can unlock liberation or bring about collapse. In 1984, probably the most famous story of hyper-oppression and censorship, George Orwell notes that “who controls the past controls the future”. These words – as well as the concept of the memory hole and the tragic fire of the Library of Alexandria – inspired the creation of the Arweave protocol.
Arweave founder Sam Williams’ vision of a permanent record of history which could neither be altered nor destroyed came amid the fake news pandemic of 2016, initially as way to archive news in its original form to defend against 404s and shadow edits.
While Arweave has expanded far beyond this vision and now acts as a ‘layer 0’ for other blockchains, a host for UIs, and a smart contract engine, the protocol still sees massive use as storage for at-risk knowledge.
Tens of thousands of endangered files have been uploaded to Arweave via ArDrive – an easy-to-use app that allows archivists to store any kind of data, either privately for personal reference, or openly in public drives.
However, one problem with the permaweb is that it is fragmented. A recent question about how to ‘browse the permaweb’ in the Arweave Dev Discord made this obvious. There’s no single way to browse the permaweb; instead, information is spread across archived pages, siloed applications and public drives.
It’s possible to search the permaweb with bitsear.ch, but since the links inside pages are not archived too, you’re always one click away from the regular web. This is perhaps a bigger problem to solve than can be addressed here – and one which needs proper incentives and collaboration from the community – however, let’s make a start.
This article collects ArDrive public drives of what we’ll call ‘hidden’ information – without making a judgement on its importance, correctness, or alignment with the political leanings of anyone here or in the wider ecosystem. It’s information for information’s sake, which may be the best kind.
The Black Vault
The Black Vault public drive contains documents from the web archive of the same name at theblackvault.com. Founded in 1996, every document in the vault was “obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or through other means of accessing U.S. government public information”.
Most of this public drive’s content is backed up from the vault’s UFO category and offers thousands of pages of reports from the 1950s the the modern day.
Apple Daily was Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy newspaper – until it wasn’t. As a leading critic of the CCP, Apple Daily was always at risk of censorship, but on June 17 2021 when executives were arrested by Chinese officials under the pretense of endangering national security, the media outlet of the resistance was shut down for the safety of its employees. A diligent archivist rescued over 10,000 pages of the paper in an ArDrive public drive, preserving the contents forever.
“The battle to preserve freedom of the press will be fought with technological weaponry,” Abosch told Cointelegraph in an interview a few weeks after the paper’s closure.
This drive collects an article about this history of censorship from the University of Pennsylvania as well as the full texts of ~40 books which have historically been outlawed or censored.
Literature getting cancelled isn’t just an old fashioned concept, though. Hundreds of books were banned between 2007 and 2011 in the United States, as shown by this map:
Even though it isn’t illegal to read banned books, banning a book can make it considerably harder to find. With ArDrive, we can do our best to ensure that readers have free choice over what they’re protected from.
Records of Trump protests and the 2021 Capitol insurrection
The 2021 Trump campaign spawned multiple memorable events worth documenting, from speeches to riots. Several gigabytes of text and videos have been captured and archived from these events and added to a public drive from various social media sources.
Spectator streams from Twitch, transcripts of official speeches, video documentation from Twitter, and more are included for anyone in the future looking to reference this period of uncertainty.
Infowars Banned Videos
Infowars founder Alex Jones is a controversial figure, to say the least. While some would call him a rabid conspiracy theorist, others would claim he’s the only voice making any sense. Whichever way you take it, the Infowars Banned Videos are undeniably endangered.
Since 2018, Infowars has been deplatformed from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Spotify, Roku and iTunes – currently, only their own servers at infowars.com and banned.video host new uploads and archive content. “The enemy wants to cut off our funding to destroy us”, Alex Jones claims.
Several files from Infowars’ Greg Reese are mirrored on ArDrive.
Webpages saved with the Arweave web extension
Arweave’s original vision was a permanent web archiving database on the blockchain, and one of the first user-facing products was the Arweave web extension. Even though the network’s horizons are now much broader, this function is still widely used.
It’s possible to use bitsear.ch to search pages on the permaweb, but there’s also a web app to see the most recently archived pages – check it out here.
There’s no way we could cover everything on the permaweb in one article, and no way we could even bring all of the endangered highlights to your attention. We rely on Arweave’s community – the permaweb pioneers – to tip us off as to what we should cover.