Slate contributor Steve Kolowich writes about going through-- and often deleting-- old Facebook posts, likes, and messages:
A wall post, comment, or "like" stops being useful once everyone involved is done enjoying the fleeting rush of having been publicly acknowledged, in some lightweight way, by another person. Yet Facebook holds on to these data points indefinitely, working them over for information, like old confidants turned informants.
In the end, however, that righteousness rings hollow. Only you can see your Activity Log. And besides, Facebook only cares to understand your past in a way that will help predict what advertisements you might click on in the future. It doesn't care that you used to post self-indulgent status updates while sniping at other people's grammar. It doesn't care that you posted in support of gay rights while trading homophobic jabs with your friends. It doesn't care that you shamelessly flirted with other women on their walls while your girlfriend was posting notes on yours, writing in Swedish, counting down the days until you would visit her in London.
We care. That is what makes Activity Log so discomfiting. We dread being taken out of context. But a lot of context can be too much to bear.
I had a similar experience when I saw a demo of Futureful, a great app that searches the Web for things it thinks you're interested in. To do that, it dives into your Facebook and Twitter accounts (with you permission) to see what you post about. As I write in my book about seeing it analyze me:
I’ve always assumed that my Facebook and Twitter pages reflect my true self. But when I look at the Futureful algorithm’s profile of my interests—its sense of who I am, its snapshot of what I look like online — I’m puzzled at first, then actually alarmed.
The person Futureful thinks I am is very interested in politics; most of its recommendations are from partisan American Web sites or Euro- pean news sources. (To the program’s credit, most of them are new to me; the system is doing what it’s supposed to.) According to Futureful, I’m also very cynical. It thinks I like to read about corruption, scan- dals, and disasters caused by shortsightedness and greed. There’s nothing about history, design, computer science, or futures. Nothing about Buddhism or religion. Nothing about science. This person is an observer of the follies and stupidity of mankind, a cybernetic H. L. Mencken.
If I were talking to this person at a party, I’d concoct an excuse to get away from him.
It actually inspired me to change the way I use those services.