Facebook: That was then, this is now.

This week as reported by TechCrunch, Facebook users have been hearing rumors that private messages – written in 2009 and earlier – were showing up on public timelines. Facebook investigated the claims and found them to be false and technically impossible to be true.

But users are scrolling down their timelines and revisiting old posts on their timelines…and getting nervous. Why? Out of context, these public messages seem private. For example, here are some messages I posted on other timelines in February 2008:

  • “Thanks and congratulations! Looking forward to getting coffee with you next time you’re in Boston…choose a warmer time of year though. :)”
  • “Hi – delivering another iMarketing session right now in Istanbul. Sorry you’re not here – but I hear you’ve moved on to bigger and better things! Hope you’ve been well.” 
  • “They used tissues not knives – this ain’t Morocco! Sounds confusing, will explain in person. Thanks for the thoughts, biggest concern is the personal data loss.”

At the time, Facebook had between 50 and 100 million active users. Today it’s close to 1 billion.

Monthly active users woldwide (in millions) – Source: facebook

The public nature of social media hasn’t changed a bit; what has changed is the audience size, from potential to actual. The numbers have driven most of us to alter our online behavior, pulling personal activity a bit further away from the public spotlight and more often only showing people what we want them to see – which makes those old messages look so exposed when viewed out of context. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, we have prepared a face to meet the broader range of faces that we will meet – whether friends, extended family, colleages, or industry acquaintances. 

This “dulling of the personal” was prerequisite for brands to participate fully in social media. No one really wants to be friends with a logo. But the platforms wanted and needed brands to get active and spend money to support “2.0” business models. So now that platforms have scale, users start to look like one another and can be grouped into segments and targets and…guess what? Social media, with all of its promises of 1-1 engagement, starts to look a whole lot like traditional mass media.

So that was then and this is now.

  • If you want to clean up old posts on your timeline, here are instructions and discussion shared by David Berkowitz.
  • If you want to clean up old posts that you’ve made on other people’s timelines, go to http://facebook.com/[your_page]/allactivity?log_filter=cluster_11 and start scrolling back in time.

It’s quaint to look back and consider the corporatist vs. purist debate that seemed so critical at the time. That was then and this is now. If you haven’t already, clean out your social media closet and prepare a face to meet the faces you will meet.


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Being: Peter Kim