Should I delete old social media posts? A few meandering thoughts.

Why I feel like deleting old posts

Facebook constantly throws old posts at me from a time when I was young and dumb. It’s a good feature because it allows me to delete those posts easily, and also because it brings me face to face with my thoughts from the past. Whether I actually delete the posts or not depends on what I am feeling at that moment. Sometimes I feel like it’s necessary to preserve those old social media posts as reminders of my past ignorance. At other times, I promptly delete them because they make me cringe at the painful lack of self-awareness I exhibited at the time.

So, should I delete my old social media posts? Have a clean slate and a clear mind? Or will the lack of an easily visible social media history raise suspicion? Will I lose sight of how different a person I was in the past? Maybe I should delete them all so nobody can go digging into my old posts to tar-and-feather me. Or should I keep them, as a reminder of how far I have come, how much I have learned and how much I am yet to understand about myself?

Going back to the research

While I was in this quandary, I remembered some course material I read in grad school. I decided to go back to gain some clarity.

In my research paper archive, I came across a 2013 paper titled-

“The many faces of Facebook: experiencing social media as performance, exhibition, and personal archive”

(Here’s a link to the PDF.)

In this paper, the researchers describe how people use Facebook to manage their self-image. The researchers describe the different strategies people use to manage their online persona. The first is the “performance region”, where social media posts and activity target issues or topics relevant to the current moment.

The second is the “exhibition region” consisting of managing your identity over time, is where the often used phrase “social media curation” comes into play. This is the practice of evaluating the content of your social media over time, modifying content in a way that suits how you want to present yourself publicly.

The third is the “personal region”, which describes how we tend to use Facebook as a locker for some personal information, how we may store information that holds sentimental value to us, such as old photos and videos, or even recording important events on the facebook timeline. The personal region is about reminiscing and reflecting as opposed to presenting yourself in a favorable way.

The paper then describes the “tug of war” between public and personal regions- something that you may ascribe sentimental value to, may not align with the way you want to present yourself in a public domain.

The paper also describes how the passage of time plays a role in delineating the difference between the public and personal domains. As posts become older and cease to become relevant in the present day, they “…gradually transition into a personal space… mostly seen as an archive of meaningful memories”.

Facebook’s propensity to dig up old posts, many of which I find cringe-worthy today, cuts through this temporal delineation. It digs up things from the past that may be looked upon unfavorably. Thankfully, Facebook doesn’t simply post these without your permission- the posts pop up in your feed and give you the option to share them and also add more commentary on it to provide context. But Facebook’s act of regurgitating old posts into my feed is enough of a jolt to my self-assuredness.

Concerns about “weaponizing my past”

As I thought about why I reacted so unfavorably to Facebook simply showing older posts to me on my feed, I realized I was concerned about others being able to look up old posts of mine and use them against me in some manner.

Every day you hear of people’s’ past being dug up and weaponized, forcing people to apologize for something they may not actually believe in anymore. People tend to grow and they learn as time goes by. Weaponizing someone’s past seems like an absolutely abhorrent way of undermining or completely destroying their current standing on the internet, their “virtual worth”, or “clout” if you will. A vile and underhanded way of using the past to invalidate the present.

It is just so simple to look at what people said online, without looking at the context within which it was said. A tactic used to great effect in today’s polarized socio-political landscape.

In the years before the internet, was people’s past so easy to weaponize? Were they constantly hounded by the fear that something they might have joked about or mentioned in passing could be brought up to possibly ruin their present? Perhaps it wasn’t as easy as it is today. Maybe the lack of a virtual space to express yourself in your adolescence meant all such conversations were lost in the ether, unable to be so easily used against you.

Of course, I may be overstating the dangerousness of digging up someone’s past in such a way. It could simply benign, like friends digging up old posts and commenting on them for a laugh. It could be creepy, like someone incessantly commenting on old pictures of you to get you to notice them. All of these activities fall on different points within the spectrum of propriety. The commonality between the benign and malicious utilization of older posts is how they can disrupt how you aim to present yourself, in the present.

Conclusion

How I present myself online is something I think about every day. As the internet gains maturity and becomes an integral part of our daily lives, a person’s online persona is equally important to if not more important than what they say or do in the real world. When I was a teenager I didn’t realize how important what I so thoughtlessly posted would be in the grand scheme of things. Fast forward to now where I am painfully aware of it every living moment.

As social media continues to become ubiquitous, as these virtual ledgers of our activities grow longer, our responsibility towards tending to our data and indeed the responsibility of the platforms themselves grows more important. We have all heard of how we need to be careful about what we post online, what we share and with whom. But in light of recent events, it is also the responsibility of the platform to make sure an individual’s information is not used against them or used in a way that benefits third parties and not the individuals themselves.

 

 

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