By now you've probably shared or at least noticed that Facebook has compiled a Year in Review video for every user, allowing us to reminisce over the highlights of the past year, as calculated by Facebook's algorithm. While some people's highlights included a wedding or a trip, others contained more devastating highlights like the death of a loved one. Welp, it's all the same to Facebook!
Writer and web design consultant Eric Meyer wrote a heartwrenching and poignant response to the "Year in Review" app after being bombarded with the "Year in Review" ad that featured a picture of his daughter, who died of brain cancer earlier this year. He writes:
To show me Rebecca's face and say "Here's what your year looked like!" is jarring. It feels wrong, and coming from an actual person, it would be wrong. Coming from code, it's just unfortunate. These are hard, hard problems. It isn't easy to programmatically figure out if a picture has a ton of Likes because it's hilarious, astounding, or heartbreaking.
Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs. To call a person "thoughtless" is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.
It seems incredibly naive to assume that Liking something on Facebook is always associated with fun and awesome memories. Hell, people will Like things that are awful and mean or sad and tragic, and it's pretty outrageous that Facebook didn't plan for that. Meyer then suggests some fixes: making sure a user wants to see certain pictures regardless of Likes, offering a preview instead of hawking the app, and simply building apps with the worst-case scenarios in mind.
Jonathan Gheller, the product manager for the "Year in Review" app stated he reached out to Meyer, apologizing for the pain the app caused. Via Washington Post:
"[The app] was awesome for a lot of people, but clearly in this case we brought him grief rather than joy," he told the Post. The team behind the app is considering ways to improve it for next time and will take Meyer's concerns into account, he said, although he did not comment on if they would follow Meyer's specific suggestions.
"It's valuable feedback," Gheller said. "We can do better — I'm very grateful he took the time in his grief to write the blog post."
Obviously Facebook didn't mean for this to happen, and it's great to see them taking the critique into consideration, but it's still pretty awful that Meyer and others had to relive such painful memories for the weakness in the algorithm to be noticed.
Image via AP.