The significance of Facebook’s ‘look back’ videos

Update: Since writing this post, I’ve written some more on this topic:

Robards, B. (2014) ‘Digital traces of the persona through ten years of Facebook’, M/C Journal, 17(3)


Ah, the internet. Facebook turned 10 last week, and took the opportunity to draw everyone’s attention to just how much of its user’s social lives are mediated on the site. Each user could access (and, of course, share) one minute videos of key moments in the user’s life as mediated on Facebook. The whirring algorithms behind the scene would pluck out photos shared early on (seven years ago for me), inducing all the nostalgia, and then proceeded to highlight popular (most liked) status updates.

Of course, within a few days, people in my feed started complaining about their news feeds being swamped by the look back videos, and then the parodies came. My favourite is the look back video for Walter White, fictional drug lord from Breaking Bad.

The surface level reading of the look back videos might be a cutesy ‘aw good times, good memories’ reflection, but the deeper implication here is ‘hey look back at how much of your life you’ve shared on Facebook – we’re part of your life now, you can’t leave us’. It makes sense for Facebook to draw our attention to this, at a time where lots of people are talking about Facebook fatigue. The depth and persistence of disclosures won’t, I think, concern too many people (‘OMG I need to go and delete some of this!’). Although, I did really like another recent ‘look back’ – Michael Zimmer’s useful review of Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘theory of privacy’. Here, Zimmer asserts that Zuck’s privacy philosophy is that a) information wants to be shared, b) privacy must be overcome, and c) control is the new privacy.

Whether or not these kind of critiques come to mind when people view these look back videos, it is clear that disclosing information on Facebook (to Facebook, to others through Facebook) has become firmly entrenched in everyday life, and these videos work to both remind us of this and to further that normalisation process.