Somehow, whenever I find myself scrolling aimlessly on my personal Instagram feed, I always end up near the end, fixated on the first photos I posted, in June 2016. I don’t know if it was the music—Rihanna, Chance, Drake, and Kanye all released life-changing albums around then—or the freedom that came with traipsing all over Europe those three months, but that summer is the last one that’s really clear in my memories.
I’ve posted scores of better-edited, higher-quality photos in the three years since, but those old photos never fail to stop me in my tracks, dousing me in waves of nostalgia. To my followers, that summer was neatly summed up in six simple rows of three perfectly sectioned squares. Yet when I look closely at these posts, I realize that the moments I remember most poignantly are the nights out and secret beaches I never thought to document for social media—I was too busy soaking it all in.
That same summer turned out to be a pivotal moment for social media. With its Russian misinformation and data privacy scandals still under the radar, Facebook dominated as a critical platform for staying informed in the months leading up to the 2016 US presidential election. Twitter’s spastic, minute-by-minute updates aligned perfectly with today’s lightning-fast news cycle as people debated free speech and its meaning in contemporary politics. And Snapchat, the rising star of social media, had reportedly just snubbed a $30 billion offer from Google as it geared up to go public in 2017.
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