On This Day -- An Open Letter to Facebook

Dear Facebook,

I'm quite certain that when you set out to create the "On This Day" feature for your users, you had only the best intentions in mind. I imagine you thought it would be fun for people to see what they were up to one year ago today and perhaps even insightful to have the chance to reflect on how they have grown or changed over the past year. However, I fear that in the development of this feature you neglected to think about its impact on one particular group of people -- those who have experienced significant loss in their lives.

Allow me to elaborate. It was an easy-going Sunday morning; I was perusing my Facebook mobile app while sipping my latte and then, suddenly, something on my newsfeed brought my sunny morning to a screeching halt: A picture of me and my mother from my bridal shower one year ago with the caption "Best mom on earth!" What your super smart algorithms do not know about me (never mind the fact that I have repeatedly posted on Facebook about my loss) is that my mother passed away, rather suddenly, from metastatic breast cancer in September of 2014.


I now live each day engaged in trench warfare with my grief. Some days I manage to function like a normal human, but many days I live in a fog of sadness, longing, heartache, and anger. I lost my mother way too soon.

Grief is a sneaky little bastard. He's erratic, chaotic, and often blindsides you when you least expect it. One minute you're laughing and dancing and singing at the top of your lungs; the next minute you're huddled in a ball of gut wrenching pain bawling your eyes out. I'd appreciate it if my newsfeed didn't add a layer of complexity to my already unpredictable relationship with Mr. Grief.

Choosing to be informed of one's activities a year ago to date is a choice that should be left up to each individual, not something that ambushes your newsfeed during an innocent voyeuristic perusal of the day's social "news."

"But we have an option in settings to turn off this notification," I imagine you'd retort. Yes, you do. And on both my web-based and mobile versions of Facebook, this setting was turned to "off." Yet, this reminder of the past that hijacked my Sunday morning still appeared on my newsfeed.

You state in your newsroom announcement dated March 24, 2015 that if one wants to see his or her "On This Day" page they can "click on the On This Day bookmark, search for 'On This Day,' or visit facebook.com/onthisday." Great. Sounds good. Let those who crave it, go get it.

However, your next sentence states the following: "You might also see a story in your News Feed." Bam. Morning ruined. Notification settings, smotification smettings. Painful memory sneakily inserted on your newsfeed.

So today, I kindly ask that you change the code for "On This Day" so that the choice of whether or not to receive these notifications really is left in the hands of the user and doesn't just appear on a newsfeed despite one's selected settings. I also encourage you to advertise more obviously how people can choose not to receive these notifications so they don't get an unpleasant surprise one day when they aren't expecting it.

I wish I could say that I was in a place to be able to receive these reminders lightly, but I'm not and I have no idea how long it will take until I'll be ready. Until then, I'll chose when and how I want to look at old pictures or remember days spent with my mom.

My intention with this letter is not to shame you, Facebook. I'm a fan, really (much to my husband's dismay). I believe you meant no harm whatsoever with this feature. I'm sharing my experience to give voice to the often unspoken nuance of living in a post-loss world -- a world that is rarely thought about by those who do not reside there.

With humility,

Daniela Tempesta