“It started off well.” – A look at a Features editor’s Facebook data

Looking through the dirt Facebook had on me was interesting. It started off well. I’ve ‘poked’ two people back and only initiated one poke (good ratio).

The ‘messages’ file is where it gets a bit more meaty. Each message thread or group chat you’ve ever been in is sorted into its own numbered file. I’ve had 603 conversations via Messenger, some are hilarious, some are cringe-inducing, and some… well, yeah, there was one where I aired someone for exactly a year.

The photos, are hilarious. I’m thankful I didn’t get Facebook at an embarrassingly young age. Some are shameful (No. Not like that. Behave), while others are genuinely heart-warming. But Facebook also saves every photo or video you’ve sent or received, including in group chats. It did make me wonder why they needed a photo of me in my English class more years ago than I cared to remember. I think I’ve set a new world record for the number of times someone’s muttered “what the f**k is that” in an hour.

You also get a list of every ‘friend’ you’ve made and the date you made them. There is also a list of friends you have deleted and friend requests you have sent which haven’t been accepted (ouch). The advertising section opened my eyes to the monetary value I hold as a tiny economic cog in Facebook’s corporate machine. No surprise that I was in the prime groups to be targeted by the Labour Party, George Ezra and Rae Morris. But others surprised me. I was irked by the list of “advertisers who uploaded a contact list with your information” – it seems that a single search on Facebook can put you in the firing line for an advertisement from the likes of Niall Horan, HMV or Camila Cabello. Guilty as charged.

However, there were some I’d never even heard of, DVBBS anyone? The ‘ads topics’ explained why – the list of interests I have which decide on the adverts targeted at me. I mean, fair enough they included “Doge (meme)” (thanks for the clarification), “Acid Jazz”, “Anti-fascism”, “Paul Weller”. Apparently, I should get adverts based on my interest in “Kids (film)”. But “Bleach”? “Sheep”? “Suffrage”? “Fandom”? Cheeky gits.

A look at the ‘adverts’ I’d clicked on since the start of March were mostly articles about music or football – I was surprised at the number of stories I’d clicked on because the site paid for a position on my timeline rather than because I’d liked their page or it had been shared by a friend.

So, what did I learn from taking a virtual trip down memory lane? Well, Facebook knows a lot about me. Even being fairly tech-savvy, they have a far bigger file on me than I ever thought. Sure, the messages thing is a bit creepy. But I’m not worried. Chiefly because they also think they know a lot about me which is just incorrect. We should all download our data. It taught me a lot. Though, I’m still perplexed as to why I might be interested in adverts relating to “organism”…

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Tony Allen

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August 2022
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

If you would like to get in touch, email the Editor on L.Hargreaves@uea.ac.uk. Follow us at @ConcreteUEA.