On the Permanency of the Internet, or Schock and Awe

On the afternoon of March 17, 2015, U.S. Representative Aaron Schock stepped down from his seat in the wake of allegations that he misused public funding. Within minutes, the internet was abuzz and the commentariat over at Gawker and Jezebel shared their theories, stories, backstories, and gossip about the news of the day; many of these posts were illustrated with various pictures taken from the politician’s own social media. Within hours, Schock’s Instagram account had been set to private.

His official Facebook and Twitter accounts are still active, and the photos on each are of official Congressional and local constituent events. Whereas the fore of the spending scandal was focused on public funds used to finance his Downton Abbey-themed office on Capitol Hill, there is another pot brewing that consists of what else he’s spent taxpayer money on outside the office. And this is where the Instagram comes in.

On his account, he posted pictures of himself doing non-Congressional things in non-Congressional locales: Lifting at various CrossFits, surfing in Hawaii, just basically rockin’ the good life. One of the last remaining bastions of journalistic integrity (and I mean that in all sincerity), The Daily Show, lambasted Schock on its February 26, 2015, episode for posting these missions on his Instagram and you can see some of the now-hidden (or deleted, who knows how far Schock has scrubbed his account) photos in the piece. LogoTV’s pop culture site, NewNowNext.com, has been following Schock’s adventures for quite some time and have posted pics from the Instagram, as well — though they are not be currently viewable because they seem to have been embedded directly from the now-private account.

In the wake of allegations that Schock misspent public funds, he set his Instagram — where he documented trips and concerts and things that his constituents in central IL couldn’t give two shits about — to private. As if hiding pictures that can be tracked and traced and dissected to link him to fiscal impropriety would…… What? Keep people from figuring out that he used his constituents as a charge account or got unaccounted for freebies … and then bragged about it? I’m not a follower (ha!) so I can’t see what’s left on his Instagram account, but I wouldn’t doubt for a second that he’s scrubbed it of the offending media (and if anyone reading this is his Instagram follower, please let me know if the pics of him surfing or hang gliding are still up).

I understand the desire to batten down the hatches in times of strife to keep things from getting worse. But the thing is, it is 2015. The internet is everywhere. Nothing can truly be scrubbed from the internet anymore. And it is silly to think that setting one’s once-public and highly publicized Instagram account to private in the wake of a scandal will change that. As long as there are people with hard drives and the ability to right-click and save (or screen cap), there is nothing that you can fully erase. The randoms of the Internet, be it those who save and share for the OMGs and LOLs or the ones who hoard screenshots and collect information for whatever reason, prevent surfing snaps and other data from truly and forever disappearing into the ether. 

These collectors (who, by the way, are NOT archivists, as wonderfully explained by the Society of American Archivists’ president, Kathleen D. Roe, in a letter to USA Today) are not true archivists. But they do keep and perpetuate what others would rather have disappear and not be brought up to support claims of misbehavior. Everything on the internet today is permanent, especially if you’re a politician. 

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