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The 10-Year Drug Test

Are you the same person today that you were 10 years ago? Five years ago? Last year? Would you like that person – or pieces of that time in your life – brought back up with a few key strokes by anyone on your friend list at any time?

A new search function on Facebook that is expected to be fully implemented by 2015 may provide you with the opportunity to find out just how you feel about making your past uniquely searchable. While the new search function was designed to enable such searches as “Carol’s baby birth” or “Jordan’s wedding,” and help you to focus on past posts that you want to revisit, there may be some other uses for the new search capability that could be less than great news for those in recovery.

According to the Facebook update announcement, beta users told them that “the most important thing is being able to find posts you’ve seen before” so they created a search capability that allows you to hone in on past posts of any topic. Unfortunately, this new option may make it easier for some people to search less savory aspects of your past – even if you weren’t the one who originally posted the information – which could be problematic for those in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse or addiction.

For this reason, some have dubbed the new changes “The 10-Year Drug Test,” because anyone can now search your name – including potential employers – in combination with any drug or alcohol and find out what you’ve been up to in the past decade. This is particularly troubling for people in recovery who would like to put their past behind them, yet find it difficult to do so with the inability to opt out of such search features.

The Good and the Bad

facebook-searchFor most people, their Facebook friend list is peopled by everyone from their grandmother to potential employers to the snide coworker that was begrudgingly friended in order to avoid awkwardness at the office. This disparate group of people may or may not be interested in the bulk of your status updates but they have access to them nonetheless, and someone who is interested in researching your past may come up with some tidbits of information that you may have wished to forget. If you’re in recovery, this could mean that you may be periodically reintroduced to the part of your past spent in addiction.

So how can you protect yourself from being haunted by old choices? The fact is that you can’t completely. Though the results of these new defined searches will only include posts that the searcher has permission to see (that is, someone who is not on your friend list will be unable to see any posts you made for friends only), and you can certainly delete any of your old posts or any comments that people posted to your wall, you can’t delete posts that other people made. You may be able to untag yourself from photos that are on someone else’s profile, but those photos will still stand, and if your name is in any way attached to the posting, it may still show up in the person’s search. Additionally, if your friends opened up posts to the public or to friends of friends, then someone who is not on your friend list may be able to view photos or posts that include you.

So the good news is that you may be able to limit what information shows up in a search that includes your name and words like “alcohol” or “drunk” by sterilizing your account and untagging yourself from incriminating photos that other friends post. But there’s little you can do if others – including people who are not among your Facebook friends – referenced your past behaviors in their posts or if they have photos of you in compromising positions, except perhaps ask them to remove

What Do You Think?

What has your experience been with Facebook photos and the inopportune photographic evidence of your past in addiction? Do people usually take down photos when you request it? What – if anything – do you think will change with the new Facebook search abilities?