The features allow Facebook users to hide a former partner’s posts and profile; edit past updates in which both people are tagged; and control the status updates, photos, and other content their ex-lover will be able to view after the breakup. Facebook has basically created the inverse of a couple being “Facebook official.”
“Facebook is a place for sharing life’s important moments, which for many people include their romantic relationships,” product manager Kelly Winters said in a blog post. “When a relationship ends, we’ve heard from people that they sometimes have questions about the options available to them on Facebook.”
People in the United States will be prompted to test these features if they change their relationship status. Other users won’t be told if someone uses the utilities; the point of hiding someone’s profile or posts is to make it easier to do so without un-friending or blocking that person, and the other features are equally discreet.
Introducing these features is a tacit admission of two things: There are real risks connected to using a service where people are encouraged to share everything about their daily lives. (Or at least to post images, talk to people, or check-in to events and venues.) And not everything posted to Facebook has to be positive.
Reports have shown that Facebook is a powerful tool for domestic abusers. NPR reported in 2014 that nearly half the domestic violence shelters it surveyed had a policy against using Facebook on premises because it could reveal their location. More recently, the Daily Beast reported on how Facebook’s real name policy puts women who escape domestic abuse at risk, because they can be found on its site.
These new features won’t do much to prevent those problems, but they can make it easier for people leaving toxic relationships to protect themselves. Not having to see an abuser without having to block them, which could make them angry, is a valuable ability. Being able to hide new posts could help address the same issue.
Beyond that, these new features also allow people to use Facebook without having to confront bittersweet memories about the time they spent with an ex. Sometimes it’s nice to think that an entire life can be catalogued on Facebook — other times it’s nice to be able to forget someone is no longer part of your life.
“This work is part of our ongoing effort to develop resources for people who may be going through difficult moments in their lives,” Winters said in the blog post. “We hope these tools will help people end relationships on Facebook with greater ease, comfort and sense of control.” Most users will probably think that they do.