A Unique Archive of Radical Thought

You wait ages for an event of historic significance then you get two come along at once. The attempted coup in the Capitol last week will no doubt be discussed for years to come. At the moment we don’t have all the accounts we’d like to have, and no doubt more will be coming out for years to come. But there will be a lot of historical information available. While the actions and motivations of the key players, particularly Mr Trump himself, are the big part of the story we have a lot more to go on with this.

Many of the individuals caught up in the events will have quite detailed documentation of what they were doing on the day. With digital cameras everywhere we will have huges numbers of pictures. We’ll also have conversations and comments directly from the participants. It will be fascinating to see what historians can do with this wealth of data.

That data will have been augmented by the second big historic event. The big tech companies have clearly signalled that the days of laissez-faire on the internent are over and that people who use it in a way that they don’t approve of from now on are going to have to take into account that they can’t expect to post whatever they want wherever they want with impunity. The headlines of this change in approach is an indefinite ban on Donald Trump on Twitter and the effective silencing of the Parler platform.

The way the Parler close down played out left a large amount of data open to be downloaded – which it duly was. This included private and deleted posts. As almost nobody saw this coming we have ended up with a snapshot of what was going on amongst the right wing posters who Parler was set up to cater for. This has already, it seems, been used by the FBI to draw up a no-fly list to prevent potential terrrorists threatening the lives of fellow passengers. It came in so quickly that many were caught by it while still in Washington.

But in the long run it will produce a huge archive of data on what the activists were thinking, what motivated them and what they expected to achieve. This is going to be around for years, which is just as well as it is going to take that long to fully absorb it. I think this will prove to be a unique event. Being on the Parler list is not going to make life comfortable for the people listed. Even if they escape formal prosecution this is going to hang over their lives for a long time to come. I don’t think any other activist movement is going to make the same mistake in the future, so this may well be a unique opportunity to understand what makes radicals tick.

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