There are some things in life you just want to leave in the past.
Do you have a burning desire to reread messages you sent your eighth grade crush after school? Are you eager to rewatch videos of yourself complaining about homework in your childhood bedroom? Or perhaps you’d like to see selfies you took on a webcam so old that you had to physically plug into into your computer’s USB port?
In all seriousness, you might. It could be a funny, touching, nostalgic journey. But you can’t convince me that you want those digital ghosts from your past living online for others to see.
I surely don’t!
In the year 2021 you may summon a shred of inner peace by telling yourself that all your embarrassing online content from the past two decades — messages, videos, photos, ice cold takes, and declarations of love — are in the past, and therefore, they can’t make you cringe anymore.
That’s mostly true. Unless, of course, you have Facebook. If that’s the case, then the “On This Day” feature — which Facebook released to all users in 2017 — will drag all your old content to light on a daily basis. It’s both a blessing and a curse. But we’re here to talk about what makes Facebook memories such a nightmare.
Facebook doesn’t forget (unless you tell it to)
From privacy concerns to problems with fake news, there’s much to dislike about Mark Zuckerberg’s social network. Yet the Facebook feature that fills me with the most dread on a daily basis is On This Day.
For those who need a refresher, On This Day collects your own Facebook memories that were posted on the same day years prior, then privately displays them for you in a convenient feed. It shows you past status updates, photos you uploaded or were tagged in, friendiversary reminders, and posts that friends shared to your wall. It sounds harmless, but there’s a catch.
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Most people who’ve taken issue with the On This Day feature in the past dislike being shown their own memories for reasons I completely understand. You can be shown memories of a loved one who’s died, reminded of a troubling time in your life, or shown a whole slew of things you’d rather leave in the past. The feature can be triggering for some, so since launching On This Day Facebook has created settings that let users hide memories from certain people or time periods.
For me, however, unwelcome memories that appear on my feed aren’t the concern. Not knowing which memories of me appear in other On This Day”roundups is what sparks anxiety.
The dreadful uncertainty of one-sided trips down memory lane
As a millennial who was (just barely) allowed to get a Facebook account in eighth grade I unfortunately started using the social media platform in an era when middle school and high school students didn’t think twice about what they posted online.
From 2006 to 2012-ish everyone my age publicly had conversations that should have been DMs on each other’s Facebook walls. We overshared, we posted far too many times a day, and for some reason we felt free to be our weirdest, most obnoxious teenage selves online in plain sight.
Not knowing which memories of me appear in other On This Day roundups is what sparks anxiety.
While I don’t think anything I posted on Facebook walls in the past was horribly offensive, I know I would think that the majority of my old posts were embarrassing. I cringe at the idea that my Facebook friends — some of whom I’ve fallen out of touch with over the years — have easy access to my old teenage content while I don’t. And I shudder at the thought that they’re actively reminded of that content a daily basis.
When I scroll through my own Facebook memory page and see grainy Photobooth photoshoots, videos of naively childish rants, and other absurd things that friends posted to my wall as teens, I usually laugh and reflect fondly on the past — no matter how ridiculous. But those lighthearted feelings fade when I think, “Oh shit. Who knows what embarrassing, cringeworthy content of mine Facebook is including in other On This Day pages.
In the grand scheme of life I know that Facebook memories aren’t even close to being a serious problem. But the uncertainty of never knowing what old content of me the platform is circulating has undoubtedly become a gnawing social media anxiety of mine.
So is there a fix?
I’ve thought about ways I could review my old wall posts and choose the content I’d like to save, hide, or delete, but it doesn’t seem like Facebook has a convenient solution for this problem yet.
You can view individual friendships you have with people and easily scroll through your exchanges over the years, but exploring years and years of digital friendships would require an absolutely absurd amount of time and effort — two sacred things I’m no longer willing to give to Facebook.
I’m aware that I can disable the Memories feature for myself, but that’s not what I want. Rather, I wish Facebook would let users review all of their daily throwback memories (including those that only others see) or let us opt out of Memories and choose to prevent our old content from appearing in friends’ On This Day roundups entirely.
Though I, like many others, am fed up with Facebook, I’m not ready to permanently delete my account quite yet. If it weren’t for some light FOMO, a sentimental attachment to photos I never actually look at, and a fear of forgetting birthdays I would be free of the site. But for now I’ll continue to anxiously wonder what mortifying content of mine Facebook is dredging up from the days when I had bushy eyebrows, lived in Aéropostale monkey sweatshirts, and didn’t own a hair straightener.
Just know that I’m about one embarrassing memory of a friend away from inputing important birthdays into my phone’s calendar, downloading photos, and breaking up with the platform for good. If that day ever comes, I’ll be sure to write the date down and celebrate the memory annually.