So, there you are, scrolling through a friend or significant other’s Facebook profile, or perhaps you’re casually flipping your way through an Instagram profile of that certain someone who has caught your eye. Suddenly, through a careless “double tap” when attempting to scroll down the feed you mistakenly like a photo or status update. The rise of panic is almost immediate, that internal wailing “NOOOOOOOOO! What do I do?!?!? Oh my god they’re gonna know I was going through their profile?!?!? I’m gonna look like a creep!!!” Unless I missed registration for that class, I, like I imagine most other average people, was never given a guide book or instruction manual on how to use social media or the do’s or don’t’s of social networking. Rather, like many children of the 90’s grew up during the age of the rapidly evolving internet, and was still a child when Facebook was still an invitation only space. With the rise of Facebook and other social media platforms that allow people to broadcast their lives in quick flashes, so too has the rise in the ease for your “friends” or “followers” on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to dig through the life you have put on display via scrolling or clicking through your profile.
While I do not personally partake in what has been dubbed “Facebook stalking” for the sake of investigation into this social media taboo of seemingly randomly liking an old photo, I proceeded to scroll through and like some of the oldest posts and photos of 20 of my friends, 10 on Instagram and 10 on Facebook.
On Instagram, I chose people that I followed long ago with whom I have not been in direct contact in for at least 5 years in order to see what kinds of responses I would get from such acquaintances. For the most part, I did not get responses from the people whose old photos I liked, but 4 of the 10 people unfollowed me and/or took me off their following list not long after me liking their old photos. Maybe they had forgotten that we were connected on Instagram and was only reminded from the interaction. Since Instagram’s feed is chronological rather than organized by popularity, there was no clear elevation of the posts after my interaction with the old post. On Facebook, I chose friends with whom I have a high number of mutual friends in order to collect data on as many interactions as possible; interactions took into account any likes, comments, or shares made on the post. To be honest, I quite enjoyed this digital time traveling; bumping up posts, often funny and (possibly) embarrassing photos/posts was quite entertaining for me as well as numerous friends of mine and the targets of my endeavor who seemed to thoroughly enjoy these blasts to the past.
It can be so easy to forget what has been posted online. For those who have been using social media for a long time, there may be years or even a decade’s worth of glimpses of the past. I have asked and been asked why it is so popular to post frequent status updates or picture/videos of trips on social media, to which many people I know have replied “so I can look back on my life and relive my happiest moments.” This gives rise to the question, does cataloging one’s life allow a person to relive moments through the internet? In her book, Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics, Wendy Hui Kyong Chun examines the concepts of time and space in regards to the internet. The internet has often promoted to be a “navigable space,” and many online platforms have a series of commands termed “navigation” bar or tools (Chun 47). Through social media, one is able to essentially teleport through time and space; scrolling down or clicking through a friend’s Facebook or Instagram profile enables to user to “cut the scenery or space between fixed locations,” these “locations” being various points in time (Chun 47). Whilst lounging on my bed, I scrolled my way into the depths of my friends’ social media profiles, traveling through time while stationary. Although 3 out of the 10 people who I “Facebook stalked” did not respond to me or received few interactions from others, 7 of them became very popular posts on my newsfeed as well as others due to the numbers of reactions from our mutual and non-mutual friends.
In his article, “Tricking Facebook’s Algorithm,” Caleb Garling describes his attempt at gaming Facebook’s news feed and how social media publishing ultimately comes out on top. On a number of posts were flooded with likes and comments once they got momentum. I found that the bumped posts gradually moved high and higher into my newsfeed, and when I asked other friends how they had seen some particularly popular post, the reported the post was near the tops of their newsfeeds as well. Similar to the results of Garling’s experiment, I too felt that these posts were getting elevated not because they were new and exciting (of even entirely accurate) posts. Rather, the Facebook algorithm, which codes for validation from other Facebook users, helped to pull the posts higher and higher on the newsfeeds of our social circles (Garling).
Reactions from friends whose posts I dug up from the depths of their profile:
“Why you gotta do this to me???”
Responses from friends who liked/commented on old posts:
“WHAT IS THIS? Lol”
“OMG, what a baby!”
I found the more embarrassing the original post was for the owner of the profile, the more validation the post received from other Facebook users. Ultimately, this disturbance was disturbing more for the user whose profile I had dug into when on Facebook than other users who interacted with the post after I bumped it up in the newsfeed. However, on Instagram, it was me that was most disturbed by this glitch in behavior because I felt the need to explain or excuse my actions and forced myself to remain silent as I lost Instagram connections. If I were deeply invested in my Instagram profile, I doubt I would have been as willing to perform this behavioral glitch.