Why Facebook’s Photo Hoarding Matters—LGBT or not.

Looking back on 10 years of playing fast and loose with your most embarrassing and private moments.

jessica lachenal
Feb 5, 2014 · 5 min read

It’s Facebook’s 10th anniversary. By now, you’ve probably viewed your Look Back video, and realized just how much you’ve changed. But just how much has Facebook changed, and what would their Look Back video look like? Would their millionth user make the cut? Would their IPO day? More importantly, would their attitude towards privacy and sharing be there?

Now, more than ever, people are being judged by what they put out on social media and the internet. Blog posts, tweets, music, and photos all are taken into account and are often viewed as everything we are and everything we may stand for. Our online personas are quickly becoming accepted substitutes for who we are in real life, and nowhere is this more evident than on Facebook.

Across all demographics, people are realizing that everything they put on social media matters. To quote The Social Network, “The internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink.”

Everything we say, everything we do, it’s all up there for everyone to see, forever. So I guess I should not be that surprised that on viewing my own “Look Back” video, I found some old photos that I thought I had deleted a long, long time ago.

A while back, Facebook made headlines when it was revealed that photos you thought you deleted were actually still very much present and alive. Ars Technica had an intriguing (but scary) article about how it took over a year for them to finally get rid of some photos that the author, Jacqui Cheng, had deleted. Other users reported waiting upwards of three years for their supposedly deleted photos to be purged from Facebook’s cache.

It is important to note that this applies to images and their direct links. As in, yes, when you delete a photo from Facebook, it will no longer be shown on any feeds. However, if you have a direct link, you will find that the photo is actually still quite present on the Facebook CDN. People can still view these photos online, as if they were never gone in the first place.

Facebook claims that they have, “worldwide license to use any content you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

In the next point, they also claim that, “When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).”

Aside from the fact that there are reports to the contrary regarding availability to others, one must wonder: what does it mean, then, when Facebook decides to use some photos you thought you deleted in, say, one of their promotional videos, such as the year end posts that everyone spams in November, or in the Look Back video released today?

Well, what happens is that you end up seeing a face that you thought you’d left behind a long, long time ago. In not so many words, I am trans. To be more specific, I am a trans*woman, and I haven’t really identified as male for quite some time now. When I first joined Facebook back in 2005, that was long before I started transitioning into the person I would eventually become today. Of course, as any young adult on Facebook would do nowadays, I posted photos of myself. Not necessarily doing anything crazy, just me with friends, with my sister, or hanging around. Luckily this was before the age of the #selfie, so I got away with not too many photos of myself.

However, those photos of me that did get posted online quickly became a liability when I realized I wanted to stealth transition. In order to facilitate that, I had to begin the arduous process of eliminating a lot of my old identity on whatever social media I lurked at the time. This included deactivating my MySpace, changing my e-mail address, and more importantly, removing all of my old photos on Facebook. So, with a quick click and a confirmation, I expected that a lot of my old photos—along with my old self, I guess—would be gone forever.

And they were.

Until today.

Yeah, I guess that I could have just as easily created an entirely new Facebook under my new identity and just restarted from there. But I did have a lot of people who supported me and my stealth goals, and I did not want to lose them. Ask anybody who’s had to re-establish an identity (on and offline), it’s not easy. I figured I could cut out a lot of the grief and just… be the new person I knew I was inside.

My old photos represented a specter, a vision of the past that I thought I had left behind and did not have to see again. It’s not that I didn’t like who I was, I did. After all, the person I was ended up ultimately bringing me to where I am now, but that person was a chapter in my life that I finished a long time ago. That person is no longer who I am, and I would rather not be faced with a reminder of him, especially in what Facebook is calling “the best moments of the past 10 years.”

Put simply, they were not the best moments of my life at all.

Hence why I deleted the photos in the first place. But my case is simple. I can handle being faced with what amounts to a ghost from my past, but for a lot of other trans*people, “dealing with it” is just simply not possible. These photos were deleted for a reason, and to have Facebook seemingly throw them right back into our faces is nothing short of disheartening and disrespectful.

You’re right, though. I don’t have to share my video. But I do have to accept that Facebook still has a photo of me somewhere in their CDN that I don’t want them to have. Other stealth transitioners have to worry about navigating around the already treacherous seas of not outing themselves. At this point, it’s not even really about being stealth anymore, it’s about not being outed at all, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid that in this no-privacy-everyone’s-a-reporter-phantom-photo age.

The growing reliance on social media as an indicator of person’s identity and ideals is daunting, but it becomes something altogether terrifying when you realize that you actually have no control over what gets put on there. You and I both know we do not want to be defined only by our Twitter handles, Tumblrs, or Facebooks, but that’s no longer up to us.

And that is truly what worries me.

Facebook is supposed to be a place where you can be yourself, online. It’s a place where we’re supposed to feel more open about who we are and connect with people who enjoy who you are.

Not who you were.

    jessica lachenal

    Written by

    writer, editor, experience designer

    Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
    Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
    Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade