No, Facebook - I don't want to see my year in review. It's been bloody awful.— Sean 'Oxy' Oxspring (@OxyOxspring) December 29, 2014
The Twitter user above isn't alone in his feelings about Facebook's annual "Year In Review" feature.
Rolled out in December, the post appears in news feeds and highlights an accounts' popular photos of the year. Users could view their Year In Review and choose to share it with friends with a line reading "It's been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it."
The online albums are often touching, fun and funny. However for some, the photos are tragic. Due to the feature's algorithm, some Facebook users were presented with photos of the worst parts of their year. Eric Meyer's case was the first case to bubble up and show how the feature was anything but awesome for him. In a blog post titled "Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty," Meyer detailed how the feature opened with a a photo of his 6-year-old daughter who passed away earlier this year.
"Yes, my year looked like that," he wrote. "True enough. My year looked like the now-absent face of my little girl. It was still unkind to remind me so forcefully."
In his post he 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.
"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."
Facebook apologized directly to Meyer. Jonathan Gheller, product manager of the Year in Review team, sent him a "sincerely apologetic" email and promised to do better in the future.
"[The app] was awesome for a lot of people, but clearly in this case we brought him grief rather than joy," Gheller told the Washington Post. "We can do better. I'm very grateful he took the time in his grief to write the blog post."
The number of interactions a photo gets on Facebook is a strong factor in whether it gets included in the feature, Gheller said. But as Andrea Peterson at the Washington Post points out, "Algorithms and code aren't intelligent, they just do what they're told. So unless the programmers consider and plan for the worst-case scenarios, there will be edge cases where the general approach fails."
Facebook "year in review" thing is kind of awful as it chose 2 pictures of my dogs that died this year & uses poor graphic design elements.— Travis Louie (@travislouie) December 27, 2014