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Facebook’s “On This Day” Is Who You Really Are

Feeling cocky? Not anymore!

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

When Facebook debuted “On This Day,” it caught guff for dredging up painful memories, just as it was accused of “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty” for its “Year in Review” videos. The company added a few filters to remove posts from specific people or on specific dates, to make it easier to block out sad stuff like dead friends or alive but now intolerable exes. But it has no keyword filters or other mechanisms to block out the horny, thirsty, outdated, and otherwise repulsive daily postings of years past, which means it can serve as a stark reminder of how embarrassing (some of) our younger selves were. E.g.:

In my defense, I was so ready for the weekend. Less justifiable: “On This Day” recently surfaced an unutterably foul birthday greeting I’d posted on a friend’s Facebook wall while I was in college. (It involved an extended metaphor about anus size.) “At least our moms weren’t on Facebook back then!” she wrote. Nearly all of our mutual friends were already on Facebook then, though, so this was mostly a reminder that younger me was totally fine making graphic butthole-radius jokes in a semipublic internet space.

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not,” Joan Didion wrote in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Bitch, I guess! “On This Day” has me on frowning terms with my past nightmare self. “On This Day” is a godly powerful tool for reducing hubris. Whenever I do something “good” and almost get a big head, clicking this notification tab will remind me that just four years ago, I was asking my comrades to join me in the fight for Kony 2012. Think you’re fancy? Click the “2006” tab on your Timeline and get back to me. It’s like how people wince when they see old photos of themselves in now-outdated fashions, except it’s a bunch of excerpts of bad jokes and obnoxiously earnest links to #important #content, preserved in the corporate amber of Facebook’s vast data centers and presented for your horror and consumption on a daily basis.

“On This Day” is not only for knocking oneself down a peg. It can also provide evidence of shifting notions of privacy and communication. At one point, my family felt the best way to update me about my brother getting an extremely serious injury was to have my sister write a dispatch on my Facebook wall … the next day:

(Dan is fine now.)

“On This Day” has become a uniquely accessible log of how people perform for one another, as well as a living document showing how social norms on the internet have changed over the years. It’s Facebook at its best — a collaborative scrapbook of memories AND a quick reminder that nobody, anywhere, is cool. It’s also Facebook at its most existentially upsetting. How long did I try to impress people by bragging about getting drunk? Why did I cut my own bangs? I’m not sure I’ll live a second longer because of Facebook, but having this digital archive of some of the dumbest things I’ll ever say in ways I’d never say them now is both humbling and pleasing. I’m so ready for all of it.