Tom Witherow: The Timeline Clean-Up

Graduation looms as our columnist reconsiders his Facebook profile

My teenage Facebook posts are an abomination. I once told someone on his timeline “ur smellllyyyy”, and another time my status simply read “wow”; one of those unforgivable pieces of comment-bait begging for attention.

So this week I spent many hours trying to magic away my Facebook timeline. My dissertation is due next week, which shows you that this time I’m serious.

Every comment, photo tag, “like” and follow is going to go. I’m starting afresh without the videos of friends chugging burning absinthe, the photos of dimly lit clubs and the statuses of cheesy life-affirming song lyrics (a slightly embarrassing phase I went through when I was about 17).

But for the moment I can’t. The numerous plug-ins that exist to clean up your timeline have, one by one, been scuppered by the evil Facebook. I am therefore left working my way down my activity log, a process that will take me until Christmas 2022.

Your boss will have a good giggle at you passed out on a park bench – that is, before he fires you

I reckon it’ll be worth it, though, because I don’t want my life on display to every bloke I meet down the pub who pings me a friend request. In the future it’s inevitable that your workmates will become your Facebook friend. If you’re lucky your boss will probably get in on the act as well. I’m sure he’ll have a good giggle at you passed out on a park bench – that is, before he fires you.

A sacking would be a little dramatic, yes. But I don’t want everyone to be able to peer into my past life; I was a completely different person eight years ago, when I joined Facebook, and I expect to be completely different in eight years’ time. I found different things funny, like my hilarious “smellllyyyy” friend. I thought I was a grown-up when I was 15, and did things that I thought grown-ups did. I’m not embarrassed; I just don’t think it needs to be on display.

With a smartphone there’s the insatiable temptation to video, Snapchat and tweet everything that happens in front of your face. And here we come to Facebook problem number two: you don’t have control of what goes on the web. It’s not like Twitter, or Instagram, because de-tag and hide to your heart’s content, the pictures are still up there.

“You can just un-tag the photo”, you cry. I know this… now. But all those years ago when the first picture of me tip-toed onto my wall I didn’t. On Facebook, we learn about its pitfalls and dangers months and years after they first occur. In the same vein I don’t want my posts today to be visible in ten years’ time either.

I’m not railing against social media; being able to contact someone by just knowing their name is madly useful. There are few better ways to get a quick response from friends. We have more freedom to express opinion and identity than ever before, and it provides exciting new ways of forming and maintaining friendships.

But as the first people to grow up with Facebook documenting our adolescence and growth into adulthood we’re left with a problem. We didn’t know it at the time, and now it remains on public display to anyone we decide to have as a “friend” until our dying days. We are given no choice in the matter. We know this now, but for years we allowed thousands of posts and pictures to go unwatched.

So here’s my appeal to Mr Zuckerberg: please let us delete the good, bad and ugly of our Facebook timeline. Don’t tell me that the conversations of my 17-year-old self are worth selling to the world’s marketing and advertising behemoths. At ten updates, tags, likes and pics a day I’ve got 29,000 of these things to deal with. What do you say Mark, will you save me the trouble?

One comment

  1. Great piece. Definitely something you don’t think about at school/in freshers week

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