For over a decade, writer Dennis Cooper maintained a literary-leaning blog with a cult following where he posted fiction, art, and more. Last month, Google deleted it without notice.
Just like that, 10 years’ worth of content had apparently vanished without warning; if Cooper’s lost posts do still exist somewhere, they’re completely inaccessible to both the public and to Cooper himself. And ever since they disappeared, Cooper has been trying to figure out why.
So many of us put a considerable amount of ourselves on the internet; we’re tied to our online accounts, be they our blogs, our personal email addresses, or our social media handles. For anyone who creates and posts original content on the internet, the thought of losing all those years of work in one fell swoop is probably terrifying. But as Cooper’s experience shows, it can happen. And in his case, the loss came at the hands of one of the internet’s most trusted content keepers, Google.
The incident raises many questions: about what happened to Cooper’s blog, why it was flagged for deletion to begin with, why he never received any kind of warning — and whether his experience was a fluke or a sign of a greater risk involved for all of us who host content online.
The mysterious case of Dennis Cooper’s missing blog
Cooper is an acclaimed novelist, poet, and journalist with 10 novels and several volumes of poetry to his name. For the last 10 years, he has maintained a blog called The Weaklings on the website Blogger, which has been owned by Google since 2003.
Cooper used his blog in a number of different ways. He profiled experimental artists whose work he enjoyed. He wrote about his personal fascinations, from architecture to video games to amusement parks. Once a month, as a kind of queer literary experiment, he wrote about various male escort profiles he found on escort service websites, exploring what they revealed about their subjects as well as the queer community in general. He also posted online fiction; he had recently completed what he describes as a "GIF novel"— a story told entirely through GIF files.
"Someone described my blog as a kind of experimental, alternative Wikipedia, which is not totally inaccurate, I guess," he told Vox in an email. Many of his blog posts functioned as information repositories for a vast array of topics.
Cooper had a significant literary following, and a passionate community surrounded his blog. The New Yorker recently described his readership as "a motley collective" and quoted one writer who said he’d made lifelong friends while interacting in the comments of Cooper’s offbeat space.
"My blog was a 10-year project, six days a week," Cooper told Vox, "and there are many thousands of posts on it."
On June 27, Cooper says he attempted to log into Blogger just like he always had and discovered that he couldn’t, because Google had deleted The Weaklings without warning. He says his
gmail account had also been deleted. The stated reason, according to the error message he received, was that he had violated Google’s Terms of Service, presumably by running up against Blogger’s content policies. But Cooper and his supporters have been flummoxed by what specific violations his long-running blog may have incurred — particularly since Cooper had never received a warning at any point in The Weaklings’ 10-year history.
No one seems to understand why Google shut down Cooper’s blog — including Cooper himself
Cooper says his best guess regarding what happened is that one or more of his posts about male escorts triggered a Google censor. However, he insists there was nothing in them that violated any of Blogger’s content policies, which prohibit blogs that "contain ads for or links to commercial porn sites" as well as sexually explicit images posted without the subject’s consent. He also noted that, per Blogger guidelines, The Weaklings carried a warning that his content contained adult material.
In a recent episode of the Press Play podcast devoted to Cooper’s story, small press publisher and longtime Weaklings reader Tosh Berman described Cooper’s content as "highly sexual" but not erotic, written with a tone comparable to queer literature or queer theory. "It does use porn images, but it’s not to entice me to feel sexy, by any means," Berman said. "It’s a platform to have a further discussion about whatever the subject matter is."
Since the blog was shut down, over 3,000 fans and supporters have signed a petition urging Google to reinstate both The Weaklings and Cooper’s email account. Literary nonprofit group PEN America has also joined the cause. And while Cooper says he’s been unable to access any of his lost content and still doesn’t know what precipitated its deletion, he did tell Vox that this week, he finally heard from lawyers at Google, in what will hopefully be a first step toward reinstating his account.
When asked to comment on the situation, a Google spokesperson informed Vox, "We are aware of this matter, but the specific terms of service violations are ones we cannot discuss further due to legal considerations."
Cooper’s vanishing blog raises larger implications about the sanctity of content online
"I was very naive not to back-up my work and to think that what I was doing would be safe," Cooper said.
It’s worth noting, as Fusion editor Ethan Chiel did in the aforementioned episode of Press Play, that the practice of storing information in "the cloud" is a nebulous one. "The 'cloud' is just someone else’s hard drive," he said, emphasizing that information and content we think of as "safe" simply because it’s located on a secure online platform can, in reality, be just as vulnerable to mishap and misplacement as files and information saved directly on our own computers.
Yet as more people relocate their precious content — be it email, original writing, a lifetime’s worth of photos, etc. — to online storage systems and infrastructures, questions of who and what is safeguarding that content are rarely asked.
"The lesson is that you can't trust any platform," Cooper continued. "I mean, I would never have imagined that my email account containing 10 years of my emails and correspondence could be shut down and taken away from me [for] no reason at all, but that's exactly what happened." He cautioned that anyone working online, particularly artists, writers, and bloggers, should be careful about the amount of faith they put into services like Google to protect their works.
"If I get my content back, I will relocate the blog to a new host," he said.
But if anything, the ultimate takeaway is that no online platform that’s owned by someone else is ever really safe from censorship or deletion — especially if you create content that’s just a bit off the beaten path.