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Facebook's 'On This Day' celebrates cherished memories, hides bad ones

'On This Day' displays past posts from people's Facebook news feeds. This latest feature brings up interesting questions about how we track memories in modern times.

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In the digital age, physical photos have lost their way. Many wonder if the family photo album can survive to tell the story of a person’s ancestry, especially with the hundreds of pictures scattered across the Internet. But Facebook appears to be looking to save some of these precious memories for reflection, or at least the ones on your news feed.

On Tuesday, Facebook officially debuted “On This Day,” a feature that allows users to reminisce on past status updates, photos, and content they were tagged in a year ago, two years ago, etc. After two years of testing, the social network began introducing the nostalgic program to select Facebook users yesterday and plans to roll out the feature globally in the next week or so.

When certain users log in to mobile or Web accounts Wednesday, they will receive a notification to view the On This Day page, which will show them old memories of weddings, parties, and children posted to their Facebook account over the past years.

To the relief of anyone who has ever had an embarrassing tag or post, the program is set to private by default and users can delete previous updates on the feature’s main page. Once the regrettable memories are deleted, subscribers have the option to share posts on their normal Facebook feed.

While individuals will not be able to completely opt out of the service, Facebook has done its best to learn from the past mistakes. In 2012, the tech giant released Year in Review, the first attempt to be reminiscent with users. The Facebook feature, which summed up a year’s wroth of timeline posts, was met with backlash after those who lost loved ones or had bad break ups complained of being reminded of the painful memories.

Facebook has employed an algorithm to avoid these raw emotions that will attempt to keep On This Day from showing content that involves ex-romances or the departed.

Many have compared the feature to Timehop, which is an app that does the same thing except with several social accounts. But On This Day’s product manager, Jonathan Gheller, would not cite Timehop as the inspiration for Facebook, stating in an interview with TechCruch, “we see behaviors from our community and we try to build on top of them.”

Putting aside who had the idea first, both social features bring up interesting differences between one's online persona and real life.

While it is understandable that, if given the option, some people would choose to forget unpleasant or tragic memories, it is interesting that Facebook decided to erase potentially touchy topics from the feature.

Many have poked fun at or been critical of Facebook and other social media profiles for displaying a lack of authenticity and allowing people to “crop out the sadness.” 

It is a thought-provoking notion as physical photo albums become as antique as the memories they hold. How will we reflect on our past and what it means for how we tell them in the future?

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