Over the past weeks, this site has been suffering from something which according to my hosting company was a Brute Force attack. It was a frustrating experience which led to occasional downtimes. To handle the attack, I experimented with various firewalls and security plugins for WordPress. I also tinkered manually with the htaccess, a configuration file that is used to establish access rules. In a move which was nothing but embarrassing for someone who considers himself fairly tech savvy, I managed to delete all my WordPress files from my server with one click. I cannot really say how this could happen, but it happened, and in that specific situation I was not immediately able to recover the files. So meshedsociety.com was gone. I felt like someone had died. That sounds hyperbolic but I was so deeply saddened and terrified by the thought that all the work I had invested in this site might be gone forever.
The incident happened around midnight on a weekend. I had to wait for 10 hours until the support of my hosting company would be available. I certainly expected them to be able to recover the files, and that was exactly what happened (in fact I could have done it myself, I was not aware of the procedure). Nevertheless, during those 10 hours I was in the worst mood that I had experienced for a long time.
To someone who has never run a regularly updated personal website or blog, what I am describing here probably appears ridiculous. But I am sure others can relate to the feelings that hit me during and after this unfortunate situation. Because a personal blog is part of the individual’s personal existence. Not only has a lot of time been invested into the creation of the content, but also a huge part of one’s soul can be found in there.
An individual’s online identity consists of many tiny bits of information and data, scattered across various services, from Facebook and Twitter to Google and Instagram. But if you run a regularly updated self-hosted blog, where you are the sole owner and person in charge over everything that happens there, this pretty much is the core of your web identity identity. At least for me, that is the case. It’s the heart of my web identity, so to speak. When this data disappears, for example because of clumsiness, this means the heart of the online identity stops beating. From that perspective, the analogy of death that I made earlier maybe makes a bit more sense.
Online profiles on major social networking and publishing sites are notorious for being hard to delete. Since the companies running these services really do not want you to go, they make it basically impossible for users to accidentally delete large amounts of personal data. For self-hosted blogs, there is no party that puts these obstacles in your way. You are in control, but as my experience shows, it also means that you are more vulnerable.
So I realize now more than before how important it is to back up files properly. And I also know now how much I value having this place on the web where I can do whatever I want, without anyone except the law forcing me into a corset of behavioural rules. Otherwise, when this site had died its temporary death, I would not have cared so much. I would have told myself that this is a great time to move to Medium, Tumblr, Posthaven or whatnot. But no, I really realized what I had lost once it was gone.
The beauty of an independent and open web is that everyone can operate their own little digital home. These homes are easy to mess up, as illustrated by me. But that’s the price to pay for an unique kind of freedom. Considering what you get, it is a more than fair price to pay. In fact, being able to accidentally delete the core of your virtual identity is a sign of the ultimate freedom.
Freedom, at least in regards to online publishing, is if you have to make sure not to lose the data that you have created. If that cannot happen to you because gatekeepers manage this data on your behalf, you are not free. Even if it at times might feel the other way round.