If you’ve been on social media over the past two weeks, you would’ve seen an abundance of throwback photos with the hashtag #10YearChallenge. This popular trend was started on Facebook and as the popularity surged, a conspiracy theory was born.


As AI and facial recognition software is one of the largest and fastest growing areas of technology today (you can read our previous blog posts dedicated to AI here and here), concerns surrounding data mining is a continuous talking point especially because most social media users don’t read the terms and conditions when downloading new apps.

The conspiracy theory surrounding the #10YearChallenge, in a nutshell, is that the trend was started by Facebook itself to use to train vigorous facial recognition technology algorithms on age-related characteristics specifically on age progression. By starting such a trend, you’d get a rigorous dataset and you’ll know that the photos were taken a fixed number of years apart.

You could argue that Facebook already has all your pictures and the permission to use it but users do not necessarily upload profile pictures in perfect sequence and thus context could be lost. However, Facebook users have helpfully been adding context to their photos by adding lengthy captions, stating where the picture was taken, what event they were attending and even who the picture was taken by.

Thanks to this online phenomenon, a carefully curated and extensive dataset is now available from roughly 10 years ago and now. As with hashtags that go viral, more trust can be placed in the earlier uploads of data before people start to participate ironically or attempt to hijack the hashtag for irrelevant purposes. Think of all the spam accounts that started popping up surrounding the now infamous egg photo whose sole purpose was to get more Instagram likes than Kylie Jenner’s most popular photo.

Facebook has since responded to the accusations of a socially engineered experiment by saying that the trending hashtag is a user-generated meme that went viral on its own and that Facebook gains nothing from it.

Simply put, read the terms and conditions when downloading a new app and be cognizant of what you share online.

Did you participate in the #10YearChallenge? Tell us in the comments.