The Rise of Digital Decay: How 38% of the Websites That Existed in 2013 Have Vanished From the Internet

A new study confirms one of the Internet’s major problems: Much of the content online disappears within a few months or years.

The “digital decay”
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The Internet is constantly decaying. What does this mean? It means that millions of websites and web pages are no longer available. The phenomenon is well known, but until now, we didn’t have much data on its magnitude.

The missing web. A new Pew Research Center analysis reveals the reality of this phenomenon. According to its data, 38% of the websites that existed in 2013 aren’t available today. The figure is remarkable, especially when compared, for example, with the 8% of websites that have disappeared in 2023.

Chart on the webpages from 2013 that are no longer accesible Source | Pew Research Center.

Digital decay. Experts refer to this phenomenon as “digital decay,” which has existed since the Internet became part of our lives. The creation of websites and web pages is constant, but so is their disappearance for all sorts of reasons.

Broken links are everywhere. The Pew Research Center analyzed links on government websites, in the media, and the references used in Wikipedia. According to this analysis, 23% of all websites contain at least one broken link (a link to a page or site that doesn’t exist anymore).

Links to nowhere. Wikipedia’s articles are particularly affected by this phenomenon, and according to the study, 54% of these web pages contain at least one broken link in their references.

The Twitter that disappeared. The problem also affects social networks such as X (formerly Twitter), where the issue is more evident: About one in five tweets (18%) are no longer visible. In 60% of cases, the account that posted the tweet is now private, the X team suspended it, or its author deleted it. In the remaining 40% of cases, the author deleted the post.

Most affected languages. The problem of missing tweets is particularly prevalent for posts written in Turkish or Arabic. In just three months, 40% of them have disappeared. In addition, according to the report: “Tweets from accounts with default profile settings are particularly susceptible to disappearing from public view.”

The Internet’s lost worlds. The scale of the problem is colossal, especially when we go back in time. Not much remains of that first Internet at the end of the '90s, which is exemplified by the disappearance of the legendary Geocities. The social platforms of that time—Friendster and MySpace, which had no backups—have also been forgotten, and even services like Blogger—which was something like the Medium of the 2000s—have much of their content inaccessible.

Thanks, Internet Archive. In the context of disappearing websites, the work of the great digital library of our time stands out. The project, available on, makes it possible to consult not only the content that is still public today but (most importantly) much of the content is no longer accessible on the sites where its authors posted it.

An enormous task. Digital decay is a bit less pronounced because of initiatives like the Internet Archive. However, not even the Internet Archive can preserve everything. The colossal speed at which people post new content on the Internet makes creating an “online backup” practically unmanageable, but it’s still an appropriate reference for recovering web pages that users thought were lost.

Related | How to See Old Versions of a Website: View Google’s Cached Pages or Visit

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