On Thursday Facebook announced it is testing new features meant to give users more control "when a relationship ends." The idea is to avoid all those awkward digital reminders of people users might want to avoid (ahem, exes) and give them the ability to basically scrub their profiles of a former partner’s presence.
Product manager Kelly Winters explained the new granular features in a blog post:
See less of a former partner’s name and profile picture around Facebook without having to unfriend or block them. Their posts won’t show up in News Feed and their name won’t be suggested when people write a new message or tag friends in photos. Limit the photos, videos or status updates that a former partner will see.
Facebook will even offer a feature that untags you from past posts you were tagged in with your ex.
Usually even the coolest new Facebook features aren't that exciting, but this change will positively impact tons of users in one fell swoop. Facebook can't be expected to predict every specific tragedy that a person could endure, but death and breakups are two big ones that particularly relate to how people use the social network. And Facebook has already done a lot of work on how it addresses the deaths of its users.
Before the social network started testing these new breakup features, there were some third-party hazmat cleanup approximations, like the Chrome extension Eternal Sunshine and KillSwitch, an app that makes "breakups suck less." I know about these because in April I got a call from my college best friend. After three years, she and her girlfriend were breaking up. And my friend asked me for a big favor. She wanted me to purge her Facebook and Instagram accounts of all references to her ex-girlfriend. She gave me her login credentials, and I got to work.
It took hours.
I couldn't find the right tools to automate the types of changes she wanted so I had to download and untag every photo by hand. I keep them all in a folder on my computer in case she ever wants them. I unfriended people. I changed her profile picture and wallpaper. I deleted some statuses and posts. She had asked me to deactivate the account at the end of my sweep, so I felt pressure to think of everything and get everything right. The idea was that when she logged back in it would be months later and she would be ready for a fresh start. I didn't want there to be any glaring mistakes.
It was surprisingly emotional work. Of course I was sad about the breakup, but it was also just such an intimate responsibility. I felt like I was dismantling a relationship piece by piece. When I got to the final step—canceling their relationship status—it was 2 a.m., and I actually cried. It felt so final, because everything I deleted reminded me of how hard it would be to rebuild this exact digital footprint as it had been. It was an honor to be trusted with such a private task—but I'm glad Facebook will now offer the tools that I would have wanted to use on that night.