Published on 6 Oct 2011 at 3:55 pm.
Filed under Social Media.

Infosuicide is the process of completely killing all references to your online presence. It is usually done by an individual seeking to regain a sense of privacy, or by family members of an individual shutting things down after the passing of a loved one. But is it really possible?

Recently the Web development community was shocked by the infosuicide of Mark Pilgrim. Mark Pilgrim was the author of many great works titled “Dive into [x]”. He wrote on topics such as HTML5, Python, Greasemonkey, and Accessibility. He was a respected author and was liked by the community.

It was late at night on Tuesday, October 4th that Eric Meyer, another well respected member of the community for being an early advocate of CSS, discovered that all of Mark’s Web sites were returning the HTTP 410 status code and were showing no content. The HTTP 410 status code is sent when a resource is Gone. This code is sent when a resource has permanently been taken down. It’s meant to indicate to individuals and search engines that they should no longer look for resources at this location. It differs from the more famous HTTP 404 Not Found status code in that a file that currently returns a 404 status may return in the future. Most of the time 404 messages occur when an administrator forgets to upload a file to the Web server, or the administrator does not have access/authority to make the result a 410 message.

Mark’s use of the 410 status code indicated that this was a deliberate attempt to shut down his work. Eric then checked Mark’s various other accounts and found that his accounts on Twitter, Reddit, Google+, and GitHub (a free and easy to use version control system for software development) had all been shut down, and every personal e-mail account of Mark’s that Eric had were returning bounce back messages. All of his projects on GitHub had been removed. It was clear that someone was trying to wipe out all the works of a great man. It did not escape notice that the 410 status code was done on a date that is written as 4/10 in certain parts of the world.

This sent the Web community into a panic. Numerous individuals on Twitter called the police to check on him. From this we were able to determine that he is alive and annoyed by the police check, and that he wants his privacy and does not wish to continue his projects any more.

The community is going to respect his privacy by not trying to contact him further, but neither are they going to let go of the great works he released to the public. Especially since he was such a strong advocate of putting things under the creative commons license. He  cared about writing and his work more than he cared about money. Mirrors of his Web sites have already been created and people have published copies of his GitHub projects. His legacy will live on whether he wants to or not. What’s more, by leaving the Internet in such a dramatic fashion the man lost even more anonymity than he ever had while on the net.

So what should you do if you actually want to leave the Internet? My recommendation is to actually leave up your various social media accounts, but leave a final message saying that you are going to take some time off. Leave it that way for a couple of months so that people forget about you. From there you can shut down your accounts. As far as any publications you have made I would say you have to accept that they are out there. You can try to contact webmasters asking them if they would please take something down, but I wouldn’t expect them to. I would recommend just abandoning e-mail addresses and not actually shutting them down. Anything that you do that is actually noticeable will result in your awareness being raised, not lowered. You want to be as subtle as a breeze, not as extreme as a hurricane.

This post was originally published as Infosuicide for The BrandBuilder Company.

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