Facebook apologizes for ‘Year-in-Review’
MANILA, Philippines – Social media behemoth Facebook apologized to a user who considered the holiday post Year-in-Review an “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty.”
The Year-in-Review posts appear on a user’s timeline, with an option to share publicly with a default note: “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.”
The algorithm selects the user’s most-liked photos from every month of 2014. Users are not permitted to personally select images they prefer highlighting.
But web designer Eric Meyer was recently reminded that the past year has not been “great.”
"I didn’t go looking for grief this afternoon, but it found me anyway, and I have designers and programmers to thank for it. In this case, the designers and programmers are somewhere at Facebook," he wrote in a blog post dated December 24.
He described how his 6-year-old child’s face appeared on his timeline, after he lost her to brain cancer this year.
“To show me Rebecca’s face and say “Here’s what your year looked like!” is jarring,” Meyer said. “It feels wrong, and coming from an actual person, it would be wrong. Coming from code, it’s just unfortunate.”
And I know, of course, that this is not a deliberate assault. This inadvertent algorithmic cruelty is the result of code that works in the overwhelming majority of cases, reminding people of the awesomeness of their years, showing them selfies at a party or whale spouts from sailing boats or the marina outside their vacation house.
But for those of us who lived through the death of loved ones, or spent extended time in the hospital, or were hit by divorce or losing a job or any one of a hundred crises, we might not want another look at this past year.
The Washington Post reports that Jonathan Gheller of Faceboook reached out to Meyer, apologizing for the post.
“[The app] was awesome for a lot of people, but clearly in this case we brought him grief rather than joy," quoted the Post. “We can do better — I’m very grateful he took the time in his grief to write the blog post.”
In a December 27 post, Meyer also apologized to the Facebook team for what he called a story that escalated.
"I am very sorry that I dropped the Internet on his head for Christmas. He and his team didn’t deserve it."
First off, by what right do we assume that young programmers have never known hurt, fear, or pain? How many of them grew up abused, at home or school or church or all three? How many of them suffered through death, divorce, heartbreak, betrayal? Do you know what they’ve been through? No, you do not. So maybe dial back your condescension toward their lived experiences.
Second, failure to consider worst-case scenarios is not a special disease of young, inexperienced programmers. It is everywhere.
Meyer went on to say that other sites also experience the same problems, adding that this is an inevitability that programmers are attempting to solve.
"Yes, their design failed to handle situations like mine, but in that, they’re is hardly alone," he wrote. "This happens all the time, all over the web, in every imaginable context. Taking worst-case scenarios into account is something that web design does poorly, and usually not at all. I was using Facebook’s Year in Review as one example, a timely and relevant foundation to talk about a much wider issue." – Rappler.com