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Facebook Memories Have The Potential To 'Re-Traumatise' You

For years, Facebook has been a place to interact, reconnect and to update loved ones. But there are concerns the 'Memories' function could derail all of that.

Emma Matthews was in a long-term relationship with a close-knit group of friends -- comfortable and happy moving through the motions of life.

But when her relationship broke down and her friendship group went with it, she was left feeling isolated.

Matthews told 10 daily the next year was "pretty bad mentally " as she tried to rebuild her life, while still carrying the anxiety of running into her former partner or friends at a football match or bar.

"Memories on Facebook were the worst!" she admitted.

"Photos of us obviously happy and enjoying our time together on holidays, at parties or just hanging out would pop up. I just felt like as soon as I got on top of things, boom! I'm back at the beginning."

Photo: Getty

Matthews' story isn't unique.

Take Caris, whose grandfather unexpectedly died at his Sydney home three years ago. The pair were close and would often meet at their favourite local cafe for Saturday brunch or walk his pet dog Mac around the park.

Caris told 10 daily  the unexpected Facebook memories made her grieving process a lot harder.

"Sometimes, when I was having a good day at work, I'd go to scroll through my feed while eating lunch or something and be confronted by a photo of us two taken years earlier while pa was still with us," Caris said.

"It would ruin my day every time".

Matthews and Caris are among more than 11 million Australians who are on Facebook, many of whom have interacted with the Memories function since it launched one year ago.

Photo: Facebook Newsroom

The function is an expanded collection of features such as 'On This Day', introduced in 2017, which offers users the option of looking back on special moments and memories from previous years.

The social media giant aimed o encourage more personal sharing across the network, which had been in decline for some time, according to Tech Crunch.

But is it doing more harm than good? There doesn't appear to be a straight answer.

Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a senior social scientist at the University of Melbourne, told 10 daily there are positives and negatives to the Memories function.

"At the time we originally posted [the moments], they were significant life milestones and thus in many cases, being reminded of those memories can be a pleasant experience," she said.

Things like engagements and weddings are very significant. Photo: Getty

But there is a downfall -- and it can be brutal.

"Being reminded of a wedding that has since ended in divorce, or photos of a much-loved pet or friend that has since died can be upsetting," Rosewarne said.

"We don't only announce good things on Facebook: people also use it to announce deaths or, for example, being safe from a natural disaster. Being reminded, therefore, of something horrible can be re-traumatising."

Rosewarne explained the psychological impact of these types of memories is subjective.

For example, those who like to display photos around the house will most likely enjoy having memories of the past evoked. For others, the reminder of the passage of time and comparisons about how things are different now can be quite melancholic.

"For some people, it will be unpleasant to be reminded of things while simply using the platform for general socialising and light escapism," she said.

A quick scroll can sometimes be unpleasant. Photo: Getty

Multiple studies link social media use to a rise in teenage depression, the latest of which came from Canada on Wednesday.

But for adults, the effects of social media are relatively unknown, with limited research suggesting it could actually be good for their mental health.

A study carried out by experts at Michigan State University and published in the latest issue of the Journal of Computer Mediated-Communication, tracked data on more than 13,000 adult relationships from 2015 to 2016.

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It found adult social media users were 63 percent less likely to be in psychological distress from one year to the next, including major depression or serious anxiety.

But despite the facts and figures, Rosewarne explained that you can't paint each user with the same brush.

Photo: Getty

"An important rule with social media is to make it work for you," she said. "If it is upsetting or distressing or causing you to feel bad about yourself, use of the site isn't mandatory; you can step away."

If it is the memory function on your social media app that is too much, she recommended turning it off.

How?

Users can open Facebook and look in the left column, where there should be a number of features including 'Memories' or 'On This Day'. Once users click on the function, they can select 'notifications' and 'none'.

Matthews deleted every memory that popped up and even deleted her Facebook account for some time.

"It took a couple of weeks to get myself out of the tech bubble and re-connect with myself," she said. "It was a huge help that none of it existed, just for a little while."

Caris, meanwhile, has turned off the memories notifications on her account and is also "more conscious about limiting [her] time on social media".

Contact the author kahill@networkten.com.au