Social media “ghosts”: how Facebook (Meta) Memories complicates healing for survivors of intimate partner violence

Little, N. (2023). Social media “ghosts”: How Facebook (Meta) Memories complicates healing for survivors of intimate partner violence. Feminist Media Studies, 23(8), 3901–3923.


Open access: No

Notes: Platform affordances—no matter how innocuous they might seem—often serve as mechanisms for violence. Or, even worse, they are violent themselves. In this paper, Nicolette Little explores how Facebook’s Memories (a feature that brings back photographs to the past to users) affects victims of gender-baser digital violence, resurfacing unwanted reminders of their abuse and abuser. By interviewing survivors, Little describes how survivors navigate and struggle with their experiences, where an unwanted feature brings back photos of their aggressors. As the authors describe it, targets of gender-based violence are not “allowed to forget” through this feature. To address this, Little describes a set of steps to avoid and navigate challenging encounters with Memories of violence but emphasizes how such features may not be automatically opted-in for users but allow them to enact their agency in choosing to enable these mechanisms.

Abstract: This paper contributes to feminist conversations about algorithms and design justice by examining ways Facebook’s (Meta) Memories affordance, when it draws on previously posted photographs of abusive former partners, is problematic for gender-based violence (GBV) survivors. With analyses drawn from semi-structured interviews with twelve “survivor-users” and a walkthrough of Memories’ settings to better understand what opportunities users have to control this function, this paper finds that Memories triggers survivors, makes their abuser seem inescapable and reduces survivors’ sense of agency, among other challenges to their well-being. By extending abusers’ intimidation back into survivors’ lives, Memories unintentionally supports perpetrators’ aims: to scare, isolate and punish their targets. This paper concludes that a masculinist bias within Memories’ design leads to painful consequences for survivor-users of varying identities. Ultimately, this study proposes possible means of addressing Memories’ challenges for survivor-users, including the option for users to opt in to, rather than out of, the function in the first place; alterations to Memories’ interface to enable the immediate flagging of problematic content; and continued movements towards trauma-informed design practices in the technology sector.

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