Why Facebook is revamping its 'On This Day' feature

The social media site is introducing filters that allow users to block posts from particular friends or certain dates in response to concerns from users that the site was accidentally pulling up unpleasant memories.

Dado Ruvic/Reuters/File
A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen in front of the logo of the European Union in this file picture illustration made in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, May 15. In response to complaints, Facebook is now giving users control of which memories are recalled through the company's 'On This Day' feature.

At times, Facebook behaves much like a person with Superior Autobiographical Memory, a rare ability that allows people to associate nearly every memory with the specific date it occurred, even recalling the weather on a particular day.

The social media site’s “On this Day” and “Year in Review,” features allow users to summon up posts and information from particular days, often to comic effect:

“It was a Thursday. I had a big conversation with a friend of mine, and that's all I'm gonna say," Louise Owen, a violinist in New York City, who has the uncanny memory ability, said when asked at random about events on Feb. 18, 1988, in a 2010 episode of CBS's "60 Minutes."

But while people like Ms. Owen can decide to selectively reveal details about an event, Facebook’s features did not have that option.

Now, in response to concerns from users that the “On this Day” feature could dredge up times most people would rather forget or remind them of an unpleasant experience, the site is allowing users to block posts from certain dates or particular friends using new two new filters.

“We know that people share a range of meaningful moments on Facebook – from celebrating good times like a birthday to getting support in tough times like the passing of a friend or relative,” a Facebook spokesperson told ABC News.  

“As a result, everyone has various kinds of memories that can be surfaced – good, bad, and everything in between. So for the millions of people who use On This Day, we've added these filters to give them more control over the memories they see,” the spokesperson added.

Particularly at issue is the often-jaunty tone that can mistakenly accompany particularly upsetting memories, leading some users to accuse the site of “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty,” as one user reported after the feature flashed photos of his now-deceased daughter on his news feed, less than a year after she died.

The company’s practice of collecting often-sensitive data that users thought they had deleted was also the impetus for recent European Court of Justice ruling that is now forcing tech companies to revamp how they share European users’ data with the United States.

Max Schrems, an Austrian law student, filed a suit in an Irish court arguing that his own data – including private messages he had with a friend who was hospitalized for psychological problems – were being made available en masse to surveillance agencies like the National Security Agency. Facebook has said an individual can delete only their side of the conversation, The New York Times reports.

The company originally introduced the “On this Day” feature in March, noting that it would only share posts with the user who selected them unless they wanted to share the post publicly.

Facebook had previously built in a feature that would omit posts from people who a user had listed as romantic partners, the Verge notes, but did not anticipate a spate of posts from users who found the site was showing them posts from friends and family members who had died.

In the past several months, the site has taken several steps to engage more readily with its users, introducing a long-rumored “dislike” button last month, which the company hoped would help users express sympathy at upsetting events and more readily express disagreements.

The feature also included a series of 6 emojis aimed at helping users better express their emotions on the site.

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