One year ago today, I stared across a vast sea of “I Voted” stickers. Everywhere my head turned on the street, and everywhere my cursor roamed online, American flags were stuck to people’s lapels, fun souvenirs from doing a civic duty.
The Hillary Clinton supporters in my News Feed had a particular excited glow to them, a sense of pride that they had helped to accomplish what was then thought by many to be a done deal—the election of the first woman president. But for many Democrats, the day that had begun with smiling selfies ended in tears. One year later, Clinton voters might prefer to forget how they felt while standing in the voting booth. But Facebook remembers.
For the past few years, Facebook has welcomed its users to the site by showing them a memory: something that happened on the same date, but one or two or 10 years ago. Almost immediately, as The Verge reported, this “On This Day” feature began surfacing things people didn’t want to be reminded of—posts announcing the death of a loved one, or apartment fires. For some Clinton supporters, last Election Day falls under the same category.
I'm good, thanks! pic.twitter.com/gnmNLc2Bv0— Alexandra Svokos (@asvokos) November 8, 2017
Hello Facebook hi yes of course I would love to see what I posted one year ago todOH JESUS GOD NO NOT THIS— Peter Stein (@PeterTheCrate) November 8, 2017
“I think people are still hurting,” says Danielle Butterfield, who was the deputy director of digital advertising for Clinton’s campaign, and is now the ad director at the progressive advocacy organization Priorities USA. “A lot of my friends are honestly probably choosing to log off for the day and avoid some of those happy memories.”
Social media becomes an odd place when the narratives we tell about our lives take a sharp turn. People curate their digital lives to present a certain story about themselves, and when the world disrupts that story, with a death or a divorce or a professional failure, their social-media profiles can become dissonant. Unless you go through and delete them, happy-couple photos stick around, even after relationship statuses have been updated.
This dissonance happened on a large scale last November 8, as my colleague Adrienne LaFrance wrote at the time. Posts by Clinton voters processing their shock and disappointment appeared alongside their happy photos from earlier in the day, thanks to the nonchronological design of Facebook’s feed. And today, Facebook is dredging these posts up from the depths and slapping a whimsical cartoon banner on them, as it does for all the “memories” it shows.
Some Clinton supporters do welcome these memories of the good times. “I saw photos this morning of me and my friends [last Election Day] and we were all extremely excited about what was to come later in the day,” Butterfield says. “I’m personally trying really hard to see the silver lining. The perspective that we had at that point in time was one of optimism. Now, I have to remind myself of how much optimism I did have last year, to remind myself that it’s still okay to be hopeful for the future. And I think seeing some of those positive memories in my feed is really helpful.”
Patrick Stevenson, who was the director of state digital programs on Clinton’s campaign and now works for the strategy firm Blue State Digital, sees these memories of his time with the campaign as personal mementos more than reminders of a loss. “For that reason I'm glad to be reminded of them,” he told me in an email. “Donald Trump has taken so goddamn much from me, I'm not going to let him ruin some really fun and happy moments and memories any more than I have to.”
It used to be that the structure of our calendars asked us to contemplate where we were exactly a year ago only occasionally. On holidays, mostly—birthdays and the New Year especially. Days dedicated to reflecting on the passage of time.
But on Facebook, every day is dedicated to the passage of time. The social network was always an obsessive catalog of the present, furiously snatching the delicate butterflies of this moment or that and pinning them to a digital corkboard. But what’s the point in a collection if you don’t display it? So Facebook has also become a unique sort of nostalgia machine—the sort that shows you events as you portrayed them at the time, for better or worse, without the blurring haze of memory.
A woman will not be president, not for at least three more years, anyway. That’s three more November 8ths on which to be reminded of where we were one year ago today. And three more November 8ths for the people who remember that day as dark to look at the hope and excitement in their own eyes, before they knew, and make their own meaning out of it. Unless, of course, they go into their settings and ask not to be reminded of November 8, 2016.