Unless you’ve decided to spend your holidays completely disconnected from the Internet, you’ve seen at least one Facebook Year in Review on your timeline. At best, it’s a useful way to get a quick summary of what’s been going on in your account for the past year. Or if you’re not really into the Christmas spirit, it’s an annoying feature that keeps prompting you to see your “year in review” so you can share it on your account.
But for some people, it’s actually worse than that.
Web design consultant and writer Eric Meyer wrote on his blog about how he did his best to avoid the Year in Review app that Facebook kept promoting. Earlier this year, Meyer lost his daughter to brain cancer. So it was jarring and distressing when his Year in Review prominently displayed a picture of his daughter on its personalized prompt.
The Year in Review app works by highlighting the posts that got the most activity in 2014. Unfortunately, programmers didn’t take into account the fact that maybe a post or photo got a lot of activity for reasons unrelated to happiness or joy.
“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,” said Meyers.
“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.”
Meyer suggested a couple of fixes for the programming, like actually asking users whether or not they’d like to see pictures from the past year and asking them if they’d like to see a preview of the app instead of simply “pushing” it at them.
In a report in The Washington Post, Jonathan Gheller, product manager for Year in Review, said that he has reached out to Meyer to apologize.
“[The app] was awesome for a lot of people, but clearly in this case we brought him grief rather than joy,” Gheller said. “It’s valuable feedback. We can do better—I’m very grateful he took the time in his grief to write the blog post.”