How Facebook Learns While You Forget

Posted on December 8, 2015

Photo source: Flickr

The "On this day" feature on Facebook digs up photos from your online libraries; photos from yers past, of events that presumably carried some significance. Facebook has even taken it upon itself to appropriate the very term ‘memory’, classifying things as ‘memories’ only if they were posted on its site. It seems to be not-so-subtly implying that if something wasn’t posted on Facebook it may as well have not happened at all.

The feature helps us remember critical life events such as how many people liked our narcissistic social media indulgences and on what date we made the life-changing decision to friend someone. But is Facebook appropriating more than just our pictures and comments, and instead actively reshaping what we remember in real life?

Helping Facebook learn
Make no mistake, Facebook works tirelessly to steer what we see on its website. One of the many computer algorithms Facebook uses to optimize what we see online is the ‘memories’ algorithm, which presumably tries to present us with pictures from our past that we are most likely to share with others. As such, we help Facebook learn by engaging with things we like - and the more we like and share something, the more of it we see.

The problem is that algorithms have no empathy. Algorithms don’t care that you may not want to see photos of your late cat, or of co-workers from a job you recently lost. Is this reminiscing resulting from apathetic social media algorithms good or bad for our memories?

Helping us forget
There are two sides to this. The first side is that remembering specific life events is going to enhance memories for those specific events; simply recalling information enhances our memory of it. B

BUT, by having intrusive Facebook notifications constantly reminding you of certain memories you also have the potential to severely distort your reality. Every time we retrieve a memory, the memory traces in the brain that form that memory become pliable. In other words, every time we remember something, the network of cells that make up that memory becomes active, and that network can easily change.

Science says that as you remember the particular moment in which a photo was taken, you are likely forgetting related yet unmentioned information. Mind you, it’s not just Facebook that can have this memory-altering effect. Rehashing memories in any situation has the potential to distort them. What is different about Facebook is that the prompts are being selected from your online persona so they already represent a distorted, social-media appropriate, version of your life.

This means that Facebook memory prompts give you double-distortion - distorting the memory in your brain with a previously distorted memory from on your social media.

Your reality or Facebook's reality?
By having Facebook choose which events are presented as the most meaningful in our lives, it is potentially culling the memories the algorithm ignores. Simultaneously it is reinforcing the memories it has chosen, potentially making some memories seem more meaningful and memorable than they originally were.

Both of these are problematic processes that can distort our personal reality.

This article was adapted from the link below. Follow to read it in full.

Category(s):Empathy, Happiness

Source material from Scientific American

Mental Health News