The haunting of GeoCities and the politics of access control on the early Web

C. J. Reynolds, Blake Hallinan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Yahoo’s purchase of make-your-own-website platform GeoCities in 1999 and subsequent implementation of a new Terms of Service agreement led to one of the most notable boycotts in Web history. During the “Haunting,” GeoCities users stripped their homepages of color and content, replacing blinking GIFs with excerpts of the offending Terms of Service. In this landmark battle over content rights and access control, protestors used the platform antagonistically, disrupting the value of user-generated content and undermining the company’s strategic vision for the platform. Within a week, the Haunting of GeoCities successfully forced Yahoo to acquiesce to protestor demands and set enduring standards for Terms of Service that preserved greater rights for content creators. This case study from the early Web demonstrates how access is always bound up in a struggle over control and offers a timely reminder of how users have been—and can be—vital agents of platform politics.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number11
Pages (from-to)3268-3289
Number of pages22
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the many readers who helped us figure out how to shift a story about GeoCities in 1999 from the observation of “this is neat” to an argument about why this continues to matter. Liz Ellcessor provided exceptional early guidance and inspiration, while the Philosophy, Theory, and Critique division of ICA and the truly excellent anonymous reviewers at New Media & Society pushed us to sharpen the stakes and extend the theoretical contribution. Finally, our sincere thanks to the Internet Archive and GeoCities preservationists, for without them our work would not be possible and the Internet would be a smaller place. The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Access
  • GeoCities
  • Internet history
  • access control
  • boycotts
  • digital culture
  • early Web
  • platforms
  • terms of service
  • user-generated content


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