Facebook’s ‘Year In Review’ Feature Is Dredging Up 2014’s Bad Memories For Some People

Features Editor
12.28.14 16 Comments
<> on May 9, 2011 in San Anselmo, California.

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Some people use Facebook to keep in touch with their friends, others use it to promote themselves, and there also people who mostly just f*ck around and post worthless observations and pop culture bric-a-brac.

I usually fit into the latter category, so when I used Facebook’s “Year in Review” app to see my 2014 highlights, I wasn’t surprised to find pictures of an Ecto Cooler juice box and a Batman action figure. I was surprised to see my post from early September when I violated my own protocol and screamed into the void of the Internet about the looming death of my dog. Obviously that wasn’t 2014’s happiest memory for me, but it pales in comparison to the hurt that others have apparently experienced thanks to their own “Year in Review” on Facebook:

The default tagline for the posts is “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” But not everyone actually had a great year. For some users, the prompts to view their own digital year in review may dig up painful memories.

Eric Meyer, a web design consultant and writer, is one of those people. Earlier this year, he lost his daughter to brain cancer on her sixth birthday. For that reason, Meyer wrote in a blog post, he had actively avoided looking at previews of his own automatically generated summary post.

But Facebook put a personalized prompt advertising the feature in his newsfeed, he wrote, prominently featuring the face of his dead daughter — surrounded by what appears to be clip art figures having a party.

Meyer is aware Facebook didn’t intend to pour salt on his recent wound, and instead thinks of it as a particularly unkind design flaw:

“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.

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.”

So, how does Facebook choose which posts to highlight? Facebook’s “Year in Review” brand manager Jonathan Gheller addressed that in a comment to The Post:

The number of interactions and pictures and image gets on Facebook was among the strongest signals in determining which pictures were used for the “Year in Review” product.

Gheller also acknowledged that the app had caused Meyer, “grief rather than joy,” and said that his team was, “considering ways to improve” the app for next year. That’s great, but I hope that their first step toward improving things is to acknowledge that people probably comment on sad events as much or possibly more than they do on happy ones.

Beyond the sad moments that the “Year in Review” can remind us of, it’s also worth mentioning the other events that it can leave out. I got a new job this year, went on a vacation, and celebrated my wedding anniversary. I mentioned all of these moments on Facebook, but a computer thought a random picture of a Grease board game was more worthy of remembrance. That’s just silly. It’s also cold and impersonal, but when we aren’t the ones cherry picking the moments of our life that are worth remembering, that’s what we’re more than likely going to get.

To be fair, Facebook does give you the option to customize your “Year in Review” before posting it, but in the future, maybe it would be best to park the algorithm and leave the art of reflection to human beings, the ones who can hopefully see value beyond what is popular.

(Source: The Washington Post)

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