While this claim has been phrased a number of different ways over the years, the gist of it is that Sandy Hook Elementary School, for all intents and purposes, disappeared from the internet sometime in 2008 and reappeared in late 2012. This is frequently cited as some of the most conclusive, if not the single most conclusive, evidence that the school was closed prior to the shooting on December 14th, 2012. In fact, James Fetzer’s book “Nobody Died At Sandy Hook” refers to this claim as “the most compelling evidence that SHES had long been abandoned before the 2012 massacre”.
Regardless of how it’s phrased, this claim, based on outdated/incorrect information as well as a misunderstanding of how The Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine” crawls and archives websites, isn’t true.
What is the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine” (or “The Wayback Machine”)? From Wikipedia:
The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web and other information on the Internet created by the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization, based in San Francisco, California, United States. The Internet Archive launched the Wayback Machine in October 2001. It was set up by Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat, and is maintained with content from Alexa Internet. The service enables users to see archived versions of web pages across time, which the archive calls a “three dimensional index.”
Since 1996, they have been archiving cached pages of web sites onto their large cluster of Linux nodes. They revisit sites every few weeks or months and archive a new version if the content has changed. Sites can also be captured on the fly by visitors who are offered a link to do so. The intent is to capture and archive content that otherwise would be lost whenever a site is changed or closed down. Their grand vision is to archive the entire Internet.
Emphasis mine. “The Wayback Machine” only revisits sites “every few weeks or months”. This is important enough to repeated later in the same article:
The frequency of snapshots is variable, so not all tracked web site updates are recorded. Sometimes there are intervals of several weeks or years between snapshots.
Again, emphasis mine. This insight into the operation of “The Wayback Machine” is also stated very plainly, in the form of a disclaimer, right on the site’s calendar view page:
With that in mind, let’s address this claim as it exists in the aforementioned “Nobody Died At Sandy Hook”:
“Arguably, the most compelling evidence that SHES had long been abandoned before the 2012 massacre is the testimony from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine of the school’s lack of of Internet activity from the beginning of 2008 through all of 2012.”
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that archived versions of websites, sporadically crawled by “The Wayback Machine”, are not at all synonymous with “internet activity”. Any claim to the contrary quite frankly demonstrates a level technological ignorance that is nothing short of staggering. For that level of insight we’d need to view the logs from the school’s networking equipment, which are not publicly available.
Secondly, as it is explained in Fetzer’s book, the authors verified this claim by searching for snapshots of http://newtown.k12.ct.us/~sh, which they claim is the school’s website. Sandy Hook’s website has not been located at http://newtown.k12.ct.us/~sh since the summer of 2006 (and it would change again in 2011). That’s when the webmaster for the Newtown public school district changed the address of every school’s site, not just Sandy Hook’s. And if you search The Wayback Machine for any of those old addresses, it returns very similar – if not even more extreme – results:
That Newtown changed the addresses for all of their school’s websites is not particularly difficult information to find.
Even though the address for Sandy Hook School is incorrect, the website for all of Newtown’s public schools was in fact http://www.newtown.k12.ct.us back in 2008. And plugging that into the Wayback Machine returns the following results:
The first thing that likely jumps out at you is – with the exception of a single snapshot taken in January of 2010 – a gap that exists between November of 2007 and July of 2011. I’ll explain the reason for this later, but for now, if you take a look at the very last snapshot before the break (taken on November 20th, 2007), you’ll see that the link provided for Sandy Hook Elementary School during this time was actually http://www.newtown.k12.ct.us/shs:
This address is corroborated by the earliest edition of “The Sandy Hook Connection” (Sandy Hook’s official newsletter) that I was able to find, which is dated January 8th, 2009:
This is different from the address provided in Fetzer’s book, and when you enter that address – the correct address – into the Wayback Machine, you got the following results:
This narrows the gap considerably, whittling it down to April of 2008 (why would a school close with two months left in the school year?) through October of 2010, or a full year and a half shy of the original claim of four full years. But even taking into consideration the inconsistent nature of the Wayback Machine, two and a half years still seems like kind of a long time between snapshots. So what gives? As is usually the case with these things, there’s actually a very simple, technical explanation. From The Wayback Machine’s FAQ:
How can I have my site’s pages excluded from the Wayback Machine?
You can exclude your site from display in the Wayback Machine by placing a robots.txt file on your web server that is set to disallow User-Agent: ia_archiver. You can also send an email request for us to review to firstname.lastname@example.org with the URL (web address) in the text of your message.
What is a robots.txt file? From Wikipedia:
The robots exclusion standard, also known as the robots exclusion protocol or simply robots.txt, is a standard used by websites to communicate with web crawlers and other web robots. The standard specifies how to inform the web robot about which areas of the website should not be processed or scanned.
Sure enough, we can see that on June 4th, 2008, the webmaster for Newtown’s public schools added the following to their robots.txt file:
This “User-agent: *” means this section applies to all robots. The “Disallow: /” tells the robot that it should not visit any pages on the site.
Once those changes were made, the Wayback Machine – by design – stopped crawling and archiving the sites for every school in the Newtown public school district, not just Sandy Hook. This is an indisputable fact, and anyone with a few minutes of free time can easily replicate the steps I took above and achieve the exact same results. In fact, I fully and enthusiastically encourage you to do exactly that.
Of course there are still some that have talked themselves into remaining unconvinced, like alleged IT professional “Ruth Teltru”, who writes:
Still very suspicious that it just so happens Sandy Hook Elementary is the only school in CT. that had the internet archive issues.
First of all, as explained as well as demonstrated in this very article, this is patently false: the site for every school in Newtown’s public school district produced similar results during this time period due to the fact that the robots file was applied at the root level, therefore impacting everything below it. Furthermore, even if you replace “Sandy Hook Elementary” with “Newtown Public School District”, it’s still wrong. I know this because I actually took the time to check the Wayback Machine results for the site of every district in Connecticut.
Of those districts – and there were a lot of them to go through – nineteen districts had a gap of over thirty months. That’s nineteen districts that had a gap exceeding Newtown’s. Three districts had gaps of four years or more:
Lastly, I thought it would be interesting to look at the Wayback Machine’s history for two of the schools that prominent Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist Wolfgang Halbig claims he’s worked at on his (previously) publicly-available resume: Lake Mary High School as well as Lyman High School. Were there similar gaps in their snapshot history? If so, is it only reasonable to assume that they were too closed for some nefarious purpose?
There are not one but two rather sizable gaps in snapshot activity here, the first of which extends from April of 2003 until December of 2005. That’s over two and a half years. The second gap is almost just as long, stretching from February of 2009 all the way to July of 2011 (with the exception of one snapshot taken in February of 2010. That’s nearly five years total without what conspiracy theorists believe to be “Internet activity” since 2001.
But what about Lyman High School? Entering their website – http://lyman.scps.k12.fl.us/ – into the Wayback Machine yields nearly identical results:
Obviously this cannot be anything other than suspicious, right? And since Wolfgang Halbig was once vice principal of both schools, it’s guaranteed that he was involved with whatever has been going on. We also know that Halbig himself has admitted that the schools under his care were infested with mold, so it’s extremely likely that they have been closed for some time, possibly acting as storage for other area schools.
When will Wolfgang reveal the truth about Lake Mary and Lyman High Schools?
Recommended reading: “When The Internet Archive Forgets”