Facebooks users were in for a surprise as the year comes to an end. Facebook prepared a Year in Review photo album especially for you. It took all of the year’s most famous posts and put them together, put a bow on it, and gifted you with your very own special memories. While my photo album brought back some happy occasions, many could not share in the same happiness. In fact, many were forced to review some of the saddest parts of this year. In a recent blog post entitled “Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty,” Eric Meyer wrote about seeing a preview of his Year in Review that featured his six-year-old daughter who died of a brain tumor earlier this year.
“I didn’t go looking for grief this afternoon, but it found me anyway, and I have designers and programmers to thank for it … Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out.”a
Eric Meyer highlights the inhumanity of facebook. The most popular social media on planet earth failed to bring happiness to one of its users who likely most needed it at this time of the year. Meyers observes:
“Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out. The Year in Review ad keeps coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds, as if celebrating a death, and there is no obvious way to stop it,” he wrote. “The design is for the ideal user, the happy, upbeat, good-life user. It doesn’t take other user cases into account.”b
Is facebook at fault here? The Facebook algorithm did what it does. It takes your likes and translates it into success and happiness.
This raises the question of how much we are expecting from such an outlet. Should we expect that they read into our grief and respond accordingly? Should Zuckerberg provide a human review of our year through an inhuman outlet? These questions have simple answers. Still, we long for a reality where our grief is treated as grief by everyone and everything. In our hope to find comfort we have blamed a faceless mathematical tool that cannot understand our grief.
I grieve for Mr. Meyers and the many others who are re-living moments of utter pain by looking once again at the faces of loved ones who have died.
The truth is facebook could have given a way to opt out, but that would be to assume that facebook knows and understands grief. It does not. It is not human, it simply, mechanically, responds to your humanity. And they have already responded:
The feature has already been tweaked following feedback: it initially ended the slideshow with the words “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” It now uses the more neutral language “See you next year!”c
Yes. Next year there will be an “opt out” option. But then there will be new frustrations. Our human expectations for an inhuman tool will continue to disappoint us.