January 20, 2019

Some Chat Histories Are Better Left Unread

“On Monday, a slew of Facebook users logged on to the platform and were bombarded with old chat messages, some from nearly a decade ago, all popping up as new through Facebook Messenger. It was a bug, and it disappeared quickly. “Earlier today, some people may have experienced Facebook resending older messages. The issue, caused by software updates, has been fully resolved. We’re sorry for any inconvenience,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

But it was still rattling. “Thank you @facebook for sending me notifications of messages sent over a year old,” one man tweeted. “Many were from the day my partner, Dean, passed away & now I’ve spent my evening in fear of what else I’m going to see.” April Roberts, a public-relations specialist in New York, logged on to her Facebook account Monday and was immediately confronted with a stream of old messages from as far back as 2015. Thinking they were new, she replied to a couple, including one from an ex. “Some were from people I had deliberately not spoken to in a few years,” she says. “It just created a lot of anxiety initially.” Shortly after sending her second reply, she realized what had happened.

Even if you weren’t afflicted by the bug, the awkward experience of unintentionally happening upon years-old message histories is universal. While phone calls and in-person conversations start and end, most online chat systems adhere to a rigid standard format: the single, never-ending chat thread. Between Facebook Messenger, Twitter Direct Messages, iMessage, Gchat, and more, everyone’s internet experience is littered with these unspooling, everlasting chat histories, abandoned and picked up again and almost never wiped.”

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