I Asked My Social Media Accounts for my Data. Here’s What I Found Out.

Pretty generally, I’m quite low-key on social media.

I only accept follow requests on Instagram from people I am not loathed to see, I’m liberal with blocking people on Twitter, I don’t post the entire history of my life on Facebook.

Yet, when the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in March, I couldn’t help but express my curiosity. I mean, was I literally being social media stalked by the very people who owned these websites? And how much information could social media realistically hold on my life, if I didn’t publicise a lot of my personal history?

I decided to start where it was logical. Facebook. After all, this is where the scandal originated, and it is also the account I’ve held for the longest amount of time, having first opened my page the summer before I started secondary school (I know, shock, I wasn’t 13). I’d heard the horror stories about Facebook data in and outside of the news. How the infamous Social Network tracked phone calls, text messages, contacts. All in all, it was like something out of 1984, or probably, more accurately Black Mirror.

Of course, it was only right that I do some digging myself.

When I downloaded my data, Facebook, kind as they are, split my information into 26 separate files, each with an apt title which detailed what kind of data was contained. In terms of calls and messages, Facebook gave me nothing, and the reason behind this is quite simple: I never provided the network with my mobile number as a security. Then, I moved onto ad related data. This, Facebook told me, is based on my activity on the site and other actions that help them show me relevant ads. Again, listed in alphabetical order, I was surprised at the type of information that came up. Whilst my standard interests and likes were included: Journalism, Theatre, Black Mirror (perhaps I was bringing this upon myself), Beyoncé, The Devil Wears Prada and RnB Music, there were also some interesting standouts: birds, the FTSE 250 Index, the Easter bunny, a park in Paris called the Bois de Boulogne, the colour brown. These were getting weirder and weirder by the second. So, I moved on. And this was where I began to become a tad panicked.

Every conversation I’d ever had on Facebook, split neatly into separate folders according to who I’d spoken with. Including group chats, audio, gifs, photos. Even conversations I’d had in groups which had since been deleted, or people I’d since unfriended. Going back as far as 2010. With the awful on-purpose spelling mistakes and XD emojis to boot. My data even had the people I had ‘poked’ back in 2010. Were we always this way?

So, apart from being cringeworthy as hell, I discovered Facebook has remembered a lot about me, even the things I barely remember myself. This was fast turning into a Black Mirror rabbit hole I certainly didn’t want to explore any further.

Instead, I turned my attention to Twitter, where I was late to the game, activating my account in June 2015. Here, there wasn’t too much to tell. Twitter logged all the occasions I had logged into the app since joining, however, they also provided me with a list of my interests, again similar to Facebook: Soul Music, Politics and Current Affairs, The Premier League. It gave me a list of all the weirdo, fringe accounts I’d blocked, words I had on mute (three total), and my most frequent method of logging in (via my phone). Nothing out of the ordinary. Thanks for doing me a solid, Twitter.

Finally, it was time to move on to the third strand of my social media holy trinity, if you will: Instagram. Once again, I was slightly late to the game on this one, and this can be attributed to the beaten-down pink Blackberry I had, long after it was cool to own one. I joined Christmas Day 2015, when I was gifted my first ever iPhone (the blue 5C, because I just had it like that). Anyway, once again, Instagram didn’t give me anything strange. Instagram showed me my previous usernames, my previous bios (of which most contained book quotes or phrases) and spam accounts I have blocked. The most out of the ordinary thing was that the app had tracked the photos I had sent and received in Direct Messages since December 2015, and placed them in a neat folder. Whilst these mostly contained memes, it was interesting to go through the file to track my humour interests, if anything.

Whilst delving into my data was a surface level experience, it did bring about some surprising discoveries, particularly on the original Social Network. You’d be shocked at what kind of information these social media sites can hold and store about you, long after you’ve lost interest in that kind of thing yourself.

So, a word of warning. Big Brother is watching. And it doesn’t seem like we’ll escape him any time soon.



This article originally appeared in Roar’s online edition.

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