A Design Flaw In Facebook's 'Year In Review' Feature Caused Users To View Pictures Of Their Dead Relatives

Facebook has apologised for its new “Year In Review” feature after it led some users to revisit a few unpleasant memories. 

The feature, designed to celebrate life’s most recent best bits, automatically generated a collection of Facebook photos uploaded by users over the past 12 months and displayed it on their news feed. But an oversight in the app led some people to look back on pictures of their dead relatives, The Washington Post reports.

The problem lies with Facebook’s choice of algorithm: Year In Review marks posts and photos that prompted the most interaction and engagement and each post chronicles images from the past 12 months, which are tailored to each individual. Users are invited to scroll through a nicely designed collection and then share it with their friends and family. The default tagline is: “It’s been a great year, thanks for being a part of it!”

But, naturally, it hasn’t been a great year for everyone and the app doesn’t identify that. The Post talked to one man, Ohio-based web designer Eric Mayer, who lost his 6-year-old daughter in 2014 and found himself looking back at the tragedy after perusing his Year In Review selection.

Mayer wrote on his blog that Facebook overlooked the possible negative impacts of its tool, calling it “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty.” Mayer says he chose not to have a look at his selection for obvious reasons, but was prompted by Facebook to display it anyway. On Christmas Eve the app highlighted a photo of his daughter.

In his post, he says: “Yes, my year looked like that. True enough. My year looked like the now-absent face of my little girl. It was still unkind to remind me so forcefully.”

“And I know, of course, that this is not a deliberate assault. 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.”

The Post says Jonathan Gheller, the product manager for Facebook’s new feature, has apologised to Mayer and others who encountered unwanted memories. The team behind the app is apparently now considering ways to improve it for next time and has taken the problems into account. 

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