Over the past few years, Facebook has incorporated an interesting feature. Every now and then, you may have seen something from your past pop up on your Facebook newsfeed. The post would be titled “On This Day” and showcase something you’d posted on Facebook on that exact date in a preceding year.

You likely smiled fondly at the emergence of these memories. It can be heartwarming to be reminded of special times with family and friends, or to see a photo you shared many years ago. When an “On This Day” pops up, you also have the option to share your post again, letting you bring along other friends down memory lane. Perhaps you’ve already done this, with a comment along the lines of: I can’t believe this was 8 years ago!

As you might expect, this feature delighted a lot of Facebook’s users. Being such a hit, Facebook recently rolled out a sort of re-branding of the feature. Now, it’s known as “Memories,” and this is a section of Facebook that will house all of these notable anniversaries, reminders, and “on-this-day” type of posts.

Now, you’ll be able to look back at these memories whenever you choose.

The Good Side of Facebook

These heartstring-tugging features seem to be enjoyed by many. After all, Facebook is largely a network where users share photos of friends and family. It has become a digital compilation of our lives and our memories since its inception in the mid-2000s.

At its best, Facebook Memories can accomplish a lot of positive things. For one, the feature celebrates friendships, reminding you of Facebook “Friendaversaries” with specific acquaintances. This can be a great tool, perhaps providing the nudge you need to get back in touch with an old friend you haven’t talked to lately. It also provides you with an opportunity to reach out to that friend to celebrate your friendship. These outcomes are no doubt what Facebook is aiming for with Memories.

You might also feel that being notified of what you were doing “On This Day” has an essentially fun element. It can be a humorous coincidence when a photo appears of you on this date three years earlier. You may observe that you are wearing the exact same outfit or enjoying an identical meal! It’s a quirky little way to see that a lot of things don’t change.

Another benefit of the feature is the resurfacing of photos you haven’t looked at lately. You could be treated to a warm family memory---perhaps an image of you and loved ones on holiday. Simply and sweetly, the Memories feature can allow us to look at some of our best times.

Could Facebook Memories Become Problematic?

By the same token, is it possible that Facebook Memories could remind us of some of our worst times? Not all memories are worth being brought to light, and there are some things---like the death of a friend or a painful divorce---that most of us would prefer to leave securely in the past.

This has been a criticism of Facebook’s On This Day feature, as users have previously had little control over what memories appeared on their feed.

For some people, reminders of the past can create nothing but anguish and strife.

One example can be found in this article, written by an author whose ex-partner appeared suddenly in her Facebook memories. For this woman, the experience was nothing short of traumatic, as she was faced with a man who had previously been emotionally abusive to her.

Jon Elhai, a specialist in trauma, PTSD, and cyberpsychology and University of Toledo professor of psychology and psychiatry confirms that this Facebook feature could indeed be extremely challenging, especially for those who have traumatic experiences. He says, "Traumatic reminders, pictures on your timeline, 'On This Day' anniversaries," and other content that would appear by way of that feature would be difficult for a trauma survivor to endure.”

Another prime example is this British woman, who, in 2016, was forced to move out of her rental property by a drug dealer. This process is often called “cuckooing” in reference to pushing a bird out of its nest. After the incident, the woman, a 37-year old autistic individual, spent nearly a year struggling with homelessness and emotional fallout from the incident. Much to her horror, Facebook’s On This Day feature brought her face to face with a painful relic of her past: an image from the time period of the harrowing incident.

The unidentified woman shared her response with Metro, saying “‘I do not need reminding of it every day.” Despite an array of happy memories in recent years, the continued reminders of that incident have been unwanted.

She says, “In Facebook’s bid to keep its claws in our personal business in a quest for data it brings up old posts and reminds you in the hope you’ll provide new interaction and data.”

This begs an interesting question. Is Facebook profiting off of our memories? Our joy as well as our pain? Let’s investigate.

Facebook, Profits, and Ethics

It can be hard to admit, but Facebook certainly profits off of users sharing as much of their lives as possible. One of the most frequently visited websites in the world, Facebook’s success is built on personal connections. Humanity, though filled with happy memories, positive friendships, and more, also has its darker side---and Facebook is often privy to this as well.

Facebook also has a broad user base. It’s the largest social media platform and attracts users of all ages. This means that multiple generations of friends and family are able to keep in touch, often across the globe. With seemingly “everyone” on Facebook, it’s tough to not be on the platform.

This means that we sacrifice a little (perhaps a lot) of our privacy to stay connected. Even when we are faced with features that could seem unusually intrusive or personal, we accept them. As this article puts it, “We tolerate this sort of encroachment as so many of us have come to depend on Facebook as a hub for social connections, daily chat, and as a way of keeping up with people we don’t know well but would like to.”

Facebook implies that everything it does (as well as the information it uses) is designed to better our experience as users of the platform. But we have to admit as consumers that Facebook likely has its own profits largely in mind, mining our actions for advertising data, user insights, and more.

Taking Control of Your Memories

Even if you think Facebook may have slightly nefarious purposes regarding your data, there’s no doubt that the company does take a lot of steps to improve user experience---and it seems to listen to users.

“We know that memories are deeply personal — and they’re not all positive,” Facebook concedes. “We try to listen to feedback and design these features so that they’re thoughtful and offer people the right controls that are easy to access.”

So Facebook’s new Memories feature may actually be a marked improvement. Compared with the original On This Day feature, the upgrade offers users a great deal more control over what content surfaces for them. This is essential for ensuring users can block out the painful memories and avoid reminders of things they’d rather not recall.

Users can dismiss stories in their News Feed or block out specific people, dates, or date ranges in their preferences. It also automatically detects potentially negative memories based on friend reactions and keywords; the post then will stop showing up in News Feeds.

Here’s how to manage your settings, from Facebook’s own Help Center:

You can filter out specific memories based on dates or on people mentioned.

To filter memories about a person:

To filter memories for dates:

If you want to check out the new Memories section on your Facebook, the Memories bookmark will be found on your computer to the left of your News Feed, and on your mobile app, in the “more” tab on the bottom right.

In addition to “On This Day,” memories will include a few new sections, including Friends Made on This Day, seasonal or monthly recaps, and memories you might have missed from the past week. It’s a simple feature that’ll probably give people happy feelings that they’ll then want to share.

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