410 Gone”: Infocide in Open Content Communities

Joseph Reagle

Where is Pilgrim?

410 Gone

the resource is intentionally unavailable

the server owner desires that remote links to that resource be removed. (FieldingEtal (1999))

What do we call this?


Online suicide



Disengaging from the Internet via the deletion of all your publicly available information. (quadhome (2011))


proclaim[ing] that they are leaving a community forever… leav[ing] a long ass, boring, nonsensical post explaining why they are so much more highly evolved than anyone else in the community. (Dramatica (2011))


  • Internet suicide
  • Digital suicide
  • Twittercide
  • Facebook kevorkian
  • Wikicide
  • Wiki Mind Wipe
  • Scribble

Infocide in OCC

Community exit and the removal of one’s presence and contributions in an open content community


open and voluntary communities producing free cultural products
100+ sources
naturalistic inquiry via theoretical sampling / emergent design
iteratively coding sources into various categories

Motives and enactment

(1) Real Exhaustion

“It’s time for me to find a new hobby. Preferably one that doesn’t involve angle brackets. Or computers. Or electricity.” (Pilgrim 2004 qtd in rileyw (2011))

I recently returned to photography after a long absence…. If you’ve written to me in the past few years and I haven’t responded, I apologize; and if you’ve known me that long, you probably already know why.

(2) Community discontent

I have lost all my belief in the wikimedia projects. On some projects I still have moderating bits, I hereby ask the stewards to take these bits away as I do not wish to spend too much time anymore on the projects, I might shout a bit from the sideline. (vanKalken (2006))

(3) Privacy: The collision of the real and virtual

Community responses

(1) Silence

(2) Drama

Bye bye. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, you whining prima donna (Anonymous (2010)).

(3) Sleuthing

If anyone is in direct contact with Mark, please let me know that he’s okay …, even if his internet presence has been erased. As much as I hate for the world to lose all of the incredible information he’s created and shared, that would be as nothing compared to losing the man himself (Meyer (2011))

a little later…

Mark Pilgrim is alive/annoyed we called the police. Please stand down and give the man privacy and space, and thanks everyone for caring. (Scott (2011))

  • Mark Pilgrim made The Economist blog
  • Phil Agre made NPR
  • “JZ’s” mysterious ailment made Boing Boing

(4) Thanks and mirrors

Barnstar for missing Wikipedians

Kindness Barnstar Hires

Mirrors of _why’s work



… can be an antecedent to suicide

  • a consequence of online exhaustion and discontent
  • a dramatic performance
  • a privacy-protecting measure

It can also be graduated.

Responses include being…

  • ignored
  • lamented
  • sleuthed
  • and mitigated via preservation

Yet, should people be able to infocide?

The right to be forgotten?

Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age Viktor Mayer-Schönberge

Infocide > removing an embarrassing MySpace page

“Right to Leave” vs. “Wiki Mind Wipe”

Thank you

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