Data loss (DALOSS): the politics of disappearance, destruction and dispossession in digital societies

Digital societies face a growing array of data loss challenges, such as link rot, software obsolescence, platform closures, hardware failures, and breaches. How individuals, organizations, and governments respond to these challenges holds significant political implications for both individuals and democratic systems. DALOSS examines the contemporary agendas, experiences, and practices at play in individual, communal, and societal efforts to eliminate, preserve or recover data.

Image taken by Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, Internet Archive, 2022
Image taken by Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, Internet Archive, 2022

The objective of DALOSS is to empirically demonstrate data loss as an integral dynamic of digitization and big data, and to examine the epistemological, ethical and political questions data loss gives rise to. Europe has for instance, championed the Right to Be Forgotten, but still faces new and difficult questions about what it means to delete data. And ongoing platform closures remind DALOSS employs the term “archival regimes” to examine data loss across three digital realms – the Web, public administration, and social media platforms. Combining ethnographic and digital methods, including digital forensics, counter-archiving and linkrot scoping, DALOSS explores mutually interconnected dynamics of data loss – disappearance, destruction and dispossession – within a common analytical-theoretical framework that fuses insights from STS, Information studies, cultural theory and critical data and archival studies.

By shifting the focus in from accumulation to loss, DALOSS establishes a new research agenda on data politics and ethics within the humanities and social sciences. Second, by situating data loss within the broader intellectual and cultural histories and theories of loss, the project develops a theoretical apparatus for understanding data loss not merely as technical challenges, but also as a fundamental cultural and political condition.


The overarching research questions of DALOSS are:

To what extent and how are ongoing digitization and datafication processes structurally conditioned by data loss? And how does data loss manifest itself aesthetically/culturally, socially and politically?

These overarching questions will be answered through analyzing three partially overlapping forms of data loss: disappearance, destruction and dispossession, where each form of loss is guided by a a sub-question:

  1. Disappearance How do digital technologies produce new forms of data disappearance and how do people working with data experience the discrepancy between the material arrangements of information and their interpretation?
  2. Destruction – How do digital technologies generate new everyday practices of data destruction, and how do people working with data navigate tensions in destruction practices between the legal demands of preservation and erasure and organizational demands of adopting increasingly networked new technologies?
  3. Dispossession How do do communities experience data dispossession on social media and how do they challenge such dispossession through bottom-up counter archival practices?

Methods and empirical work

The project integrates ethnographic and digital methods (e.g. link-rot scoping, digital forensics and counter-archiving) with theoretical contributions from cultural theory, data and media studies, STS and related fields of study. This will enable the project to attend to loss as both as a fundamental puzzle and an everyday practice.

Empirical fields

To ensure analytical breadth and depth, DALOSS works across three key data-intensive environments as important sites of data loss: cultural heritage, bureaucracy and social media. Thylstrup has previously developed the concept of ‘archival regimes’ to describe the archival practices taking place beyond the narrower remit of classic archives. In this project, the concept of archival regimes is used to probe how data is lost within distinct, but often interrelated, digital information ecologies that are both rooted within, but also present ruptures to, classic archives: the World Wide Web (WWW), efficiency and communication technologies in the public and private sector and social media platforms.



Jannie Møller, H., & Bonde Thylstrup, N. (2024). The Algorithmic Gut Feeling – Articulating Journalistic Doxa and Emerging Epistemic Frictions in AI-Driven Data Work. Digital Journalism, 1–20.

Hansen, K. B., & Thylstrup, N. (2024). Stack bricolage and infrastructural impermanence in financial machine-learning modellingJournal of Cultural Economy17(1), 20-38.

Thylstrup, N. B. (2023). The World's Digital Memory Is at Risk. International New York Times.

Thylstrup, N. B., Hansen, K. B., Flyverbom, M., & Amoore, L. (2022). Politics of data reuse in machine learning systems: Theorizing reuse entanglementsBig Data & Society9(2), 20539517221139785.

Thylstrup, N. B. (2022). The ethics and politics of data sets in the age of machine learning: Deleting traces and encountering remains. Media, Culture & Society, 44(4), 655-671.



Nanna Bonde Thylstrup's interview with Jordi Perez in El País offers insights into the fragility of digital data and infrastructures, discussing the ethical and political implications of data loss in emerging digital societies.

Read the interview.

Thylstrup's essay in The New York Times explores the delicate balance between preserving and losing our digital past, emphasizing the broader impacts of platformization and planned obsolescence on our collective memory.

Read the article.







  • Louise Amoore, Professor of Political Geography and Deputy Head of Department, Durham University
  • Orit Halpern, Full Professor and Chair of Digital Cultures, Technische Universität Dresden
  • Geoffrey Bowker, Professor Emeritus, Department of Informatics, University of California Irvine
  • Taina Bucher, Professor, Department of Media and Communication, Oslo University
  • Niels Brügger, Professor of Communication and Culture, Department of Communication and Culture



Name Title Phone E-mail
Colbourne, Esmee Dylan PhD Fellow +4535324016 E-mail
Ravn, Louis Research Assistant +4535328323 E-mail
Schade, Frederik Postdoc +4535332314 E-mail
Thylstrup, Nanna Bonde Associate Professor - Promotion Programme +4535334024 E-mail

Affiliated researchers

Name Title Phone E-mail
Carboni, Chiara Postdoc Email
Heinrichs, Randi Postdoc Email