Fanfic Sites Wiped Out In Tripod Purge

By Amy
March 20, 2001 - 7:29 PM

Hundreds, possibly even thousands of Tripod and Angelfire members logged on to their sites over the weekend to discover something rather disturbing. Their sites were gone, removed without any prior warning during a mass Terms of Service enforcement gone very awry.

Tripod and Angelfire are the two free-host providers owned and operated by portal site, Lycos. Speaking to Associated Press, company spokeswoman Dorianna Almann said that the company regularly closes sites that contain prohibited material, such as threats to minors, stalking, and racially or ethnically offensive material. Unfortunately, during the latest purge the system seemed to malfunction. "We were in the process of removing sites that were in clear violation of our terms of service," said Almann. "Inadvertently, there were other sites which were also removed and should not have been."

According to a notice on Just Say No To Tripod, a site brought online to protest the wave of deletions, most of those sites were in fact restored today again. Apparently, the purge was caused by a script that was in fact looking for fan sites, but unfortunately had a bug in it "and accidentally deleted a lot of sites it had not meant to delete." A similar script was apparently being used for member pages of the NBCI service.

The three-day incident was termed the 'Tripod Massacre' by segments of the affected fan communities, and, in many ways, it certainly resembles a massacre - even if only by accident. Any site, it seemed, be they repositories of Star Trek fan fiction or dedicated to the local football team, were fair game for closure. Just Say No To Tripod! listed almost 200 deleted sites, ranging from the acclaimed 'You Can't Do That on Star Trek' site (which hosted manipulated images) to fan fiction and review site 'Monkee's Place'.

And Star Trek was by no means the only affected fandom, as fan communities dealing with franchises from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and 'The Crow' to 'Harry Potter' and 'Westlife' were been hit. Even sites that had very few or even no ties at all to fandom have been hit, including many that did not seem to contain any objectionable material at all - web sites dedicated to the cuteness of sheep as well as a publicity site for a convention were purged. The list of those affected was endless, including Malaysian opposition parties, charities, and official actors' sites.

The result of these purges was a massive protest campaign, that included the establishment of sites such as 'Just Say No To Tripod!', as well as articles on sites such as Conspiracy theories raged, with some suspecting the sites had been shut down due to financial problems at Lycos, or perhaps at the request of the copyright holders of major movie franchises. Many webmasters were also hit especially hard by the purges because they did not have any back-ups of their site.

Webmistress Lori was one of the few who had complete copies of their sites backed up on disk or hard drive. "I never expected the internet to be a permanent medium," she said, before word came out that the Tripod sites were being restored. "It's made of computers and anyone who owns one can tell you they're not permanent! What worries me is why this shotgun method was used, and why users weren't warned and given the chance to move or alter their site, or contest removal because they really weren't violating TOS by mentioning they liked a television series in their list of hobbies."

With sites now being restored, the purge seems to have been the result of a simple technical glitch, and it speaks for the company that it has been so quick in restoring sites. Still, after this, two lessons will likely have been learnt - one by webmasters, to make more frequent back-ups of their content, and one by internet companies like Tripod, that it is very hard to target internet fandom without being immediately targeted in return by that same fandom.

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