If you’ve logged onto Facebook in the last couple weeks, there’s no way that you could have avoided the site’s new feature: an automatically generated “Year in Review” post that compiled photos posted by each user and adds the message. “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.”
But now Facebook has publicly apologized for the posts after users complained about the automatic content.
The problem? Well, not everything everyone posts to Facebook is great. Facebook has become a place to share news with your social group. And that doesn’t just include fun vacation photos and engagement announcements. People now use Facebook as a quick way to let people now about other big news: Job losses, illness, break-ups, and deaths of loved ones.
The insensitivity of the Facebook app was made abundantly clear when web design consultant, Eric Meyer, blogged about how his “Year in Review” included photos of his daughter, who died of brain cancer on her sixth birthday, alongside clip art of figures celebrating.
“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,” Meyer wrote. “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,” he continued.
Facebook’s product manager for the app, Jonathan Gheller, reached out to apologize to Meyer on behalf of the company. “[Year in Review] was awesome for a lot of people, but clearly in this case we brought him grief rather than joy,” Gheller told the Washington Post.
Other Facebook users had similar complaints. One user shared a picture of her boyfriend’s house on fire framed in the celebratory “Year in Review” border. Others tweeted about how losses they suffered this year were touted awkwardly in the year-end roundup.
While apologies have been made, and the feature has been tweaked (the slideshow no longer ends with the words “It’s been a great year!” but rather “See you next year!”), it’s another reminder of how automated technology doesn’t uniformly line up with the emotions we feel in real life.