Clarissa Sabile // Columnist
Social media is the modern-day photo album. Countless images of celebratory events and informal moments alike are uploaded every second of every day, to share with friends and family. By putting all their trust in social platforms like Facebook and Instagram to serve as their digital scrapbooks, users are devaluing their videos, photos and messages by posting for the sake of self-affirmation through likes and comments. If everything stays on the internet, are your memories actually treasured and preserved forever, or is it just a matter of time before they’re buried and lost in the algorithmic networks?
I think it’s safe to generalize that everyone has gone through the disaster of accidentally losing something digitally at one point or another. Whether it’s forgetting to save the most recent edits of your essay, having a water-damaged phone after dropping it into the toilet (it’s more common than you think), or getting an account hacked, nothing is more depriving than losing a whole span of time’s worth of hard work and snapshot souvenirs into cyberspace. Although our excessive trust in technology is broken when corrupt files and errors strike, it is immediately restored after coming to terms with the fact that you can’t really do anything about it. This rapid surrender to technology and our general incapability to fix these situations is what makes technology so powerful and profitable. You can pay a fee to desperately restore what was deleted, or move on from the hardship and start over—most people choose the latter. This helplessness makes abandoning photos and assignments easy, and as a result, has fostered the habit of uploading files into a digital memory instead.
In March 2014, Facebook introduced ‘On This Day’, a feature that displays a past status, ‘Friendversary,’ and other major events from a user’s activity history that occurred on the same day. Facebook ‘Memories’ was launched in June 2018 to compile these recollective posts into a designated page, and recaps content into a personalized video. In the media releases for these new features, research was shown indicating that these daily highlights of memories had a “positive impact on people’s mood and overall well-being.” The reason? They provide another digital space to share important moments from their life and help users re-live their experiences. No one really wants to scroll through thousands of Facebook statuses and comments as a source of nostalgia, but if the platform presents your awful webcam selfie from 2009 or anything from the “LMS (Like My Status) for a TBH (To Be Honest)” era to you, you will likely want to see more and reminisce. But, this is also the problem with social media turning into our digital photo albums. Our memories are adopted and maintained by multinational media corporations and reintroduced according to what they consider to be a major event, often based off of the level of post interaction it once received. How do Facebook’s algorithms know what is most ‘significant’ to you, and what do they dismiss?
I created a ‘Finsta’ (Fake Instagram) in my last year of high school with the objective of uploading photos that I would want to look and laugh at in five years. My most common use for this secondary account is to share personal and candid content with a smaller, trusted following. There is nothing wrong with privatizing information from the masses (the peculiar concept of organizing pictures according to what is ‘main-worthy’ is an article in and of itself to be written another day). Regardless of it being a private account, I’ve realized that the online memory capsule is not the safest place to gather notable photos. The same invisible, algorithmic ownership of content is evident on the timeline: Instagram prioritizes specific posts and advertisements that are tailored to what a user likes and posts. For example, if you spend a lot of time watching David Dobrik clips, the algorithm will probably prioritize Dobrik’s most recent posts or ads for his merchandise instead of posts from family members and friends that you would prefer to see first. Instagram also introduced ‘Archive’ in June 2017, a feature that allows users to temporarily hide rather than delete posts and control the arrangement of their profile. This media release described it as “a space just for you, where you can revisit moments without having to keep them all on your profile,” implying that the update provides users with an ability to sort out important memories according to aesthetics or changed minds. In developing this component, Instagram displayed their understanding of the relevance of digital presentation, and allowed users to consider what they show and hide rather than concentrating on the substance of these posts.
I have this constant fear that one day social media platforms will get hacked and thousands of accounts and their content will be deleted instantly. If Facebook and Instagram hypothetically shut down, I’d be able to recover everything I took in 2019 thanks to my iCloud instantaneously downloading my photos and videos. But, anything dating much further back would be gone for good. The internet, although immortal, is an unpredictable space of too much information. Without social media, where would your memories go?