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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Peeple, Self Presentation and Redefining “Weak Ties”

Peeple is an app that’s been in the news recently. It’s an app that would let people rate other people, publicly. There has been quite a bit of outrage about it on the internet, because of what it stands for, and the potential of disastrous things happening to people and their reputations. Let’s peel back some of the layers and try to see the implications of this concept.

What is Peeple

Peeple as I mentioned before is an app that would let you post reviews and rate other people that you know. You can post about others, and others can post about you. Just about anyone that knows you, your neighbor, colleague, etc. could simply give you a rating and write a review about you, like you would on Yelp.

You cannot opt out of this, meaning that if someone decides to post a review about you, it will be on the system. On the other hand, you would get 48 hours to contest any review that you have received.

And the internet responded

There has been considerable backlash on the internet over this app idea. (Not to mention they stole the branding of another legitimate business.) When it comes to presentation of self, nobody wants other people to control it. Our self image is something we are very conscious of, and we take immense care to maintain a particular public image. This image changes based on the context, or group of people as well. There are a lot of dynamics involved in social communication.

Presentation of Self in the age of Social Media

These days, most of us have profiles on numerous social networking websites. We use them to connect and communicate with other people, but that is a secondary purpose. The primary reason for these profiles to exist is to “claim your name”, to project an image of oneself on the web, via posts, communications, messages and so on. We connect with other people, and affiliate with groups and other such entities as a statement of intent. On a surface level, it is a communication platform. But beyond that, it is a means of generating and projecting a certain image of yourself on to others.

To this end, we are often careful of what we post, what we “like”, what we share, and with whom. We delete or modify posts in order to keep a certain image intact. We carefully curate our profiles, to varying degree. Some people take this more seriously than others, of course. But at some level, this curation of social profiles takes place.

Weak ties and Networking

Another purpose of social media is to create and maintain “Weak Ties” – as the name suggests, these are acquaintances, friends, etc. that are not “close friends” or family, etc. but are affiliated to you, often via other people. Friends of friends, acquaintances, people you’ve met at social events and so on, that you may not really know a lot about, but have heard of or met a few times. The “friend” metaphor on Facebook lost it’s significance a while ago, in this regard. We “friend” so many people on Facebook at times, that it is generally more like an extended network of people. Even LinkedIn is a connection based social network, which directly uses such metaphors as first second and third connections.

The significance of weak ties is that they are often very useful when it comes to gaining professional opportunities, or being a part of social and cultural events. Even more so than strong ties. The more people you know, the easier it is for you to “get things done”, so to speak. That’s why there are so many networking events and meetups where people meet new people and get acquainted with people for professional or personal reasons.

Peeple as a threat to Weak Ties and Self Presentation

Of course, the concept of a People rating app has obvious negative connotations. Most importantly, people that do not like you would be free to post negative reviews about you. People who are in competition to you might use it as a means to slander. Personal attacks could gain an even more potent dimension.

As I mentioned before, people spend a lot of time maintaining and worrying about their self image. The Peeple app would mean losing control over this deeply personal component of social engagement. There would be some that like the idea of things being thrown into chaos, and the added layer of tension that the proliferation of such apps would bring into society.

In the professional world, this may not seem to have a direct impact, however it may come up in employee and candidate background checks.

Creating new “weak ties” could thus become very difficult for people if there are certain ideological or preferential differences between people that would not have mattered if not disclosed. If your “character” defined by a star rating becomes public knowledge, it could lead to losing out on networking opportunities.

Peeple as an opportunity

As all of us have learned how to make social media work for us when it comes to presenting ourselves to the world, in time, people could also find ways to leverage apps like this for their own benefit. Tacit agreements between people regarding reviews is one way. Using these apps to heap praise onto prospective employers or other groups to influence their decisions could also be possible. This app could also be, therefore, assimilated into the pool of ways in which you project your own self image. Today we curate social profiles to create a self image, maybe in a future where these apps exist, we would have to curate these profiles through other people. People who know how to influence others directly or indirectly could use tacit agreements or discussions to mitigate the negative effects of any “bad reviews”. For example, if someone posts a bad review about you, you could ask someone to counter it by posting a good review, or posting a counter-review on the other profile. Perhaps, a reply to the negative review with some context, and leaving the viewer of the profile to make conclusions.

This is the side that the co-founders of the company would want us to see- a means of getting feedback from people you know, so that you can improve upon it and be the “best person you can be”. I personally don’t buy it, because it’s a pathetically simplistic solution to a complex topic of social interactions, which is inherently nuanced and contextual in nature.

Of course, this could get very messy very fast. This does have a “he-said-she-said” feel to it, kind of like some kind of high-school drama. If apps like Peeple do get into the collective mind-space of society, there would have to be tacit agreements as I mentioned before, not to use such applications. People could decide not to use this app, or to disregard any reviews left on them.

The idea of the Peeple app is inherently invasive. It could lead to proliferation of gender biases, race biases, and so on. It could lead to creation of inequality – an “elite” class and a “lower” class separated by their star ratings. It goes against the very fabric of modern civilization – the fact that there are certain unspoken rules, often called the social contract. A part of me really hopes people don’t fall for this obviously terrible idea of reducing a person to a number value, but another part of me is really intrigued to see how society would adapt and react to this if it were ever to see the light of day.