A lot of people have been complaining about the Year in Review on Facebook in the last few days.
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.
His story was then covered in a Washington Post piece titled "Facebook’s ‘Year in Review’ app swings from merely annoying to tragic".
As a result, the Post reported, Jonathan Gheller, the product manager for the app, got in touch with Meyer and apologised for the pain caused.
However, in a new post titled "Well that escalated quickly", Meyer has now apologised to Gheller and his team. He wrote:
I honestly expected "Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty" to be read by maybe two or three hundred people over the next couple of weeks, all of the friends, colleagues, and friends who are colleagues...
I did get email from Jonathan Gheller, product manager of the Year in Review team at Facebook, before the story starting hitting the papers, and he was sincerely apologetic. Also determined to do better in the future. But I am very sorry that I dropped the Internet on his head for Christmas. He and his team didn't deserve it.
Meyer went on to add that he was "dismayed" by the "uncharitable assumptions" made about the programmers by people who read his blog: "First off, by what right do we assume that young programmers have never known hurt, fear, or pain?..Do you know what they've been through? No, you do not."
And he said that "failure to consider worst-case scenarios is not a special disease of young, inexperienced programmers. It is everywhere."
However, there have been other complaints about the app.
A 31-year-old woman told The Independent:
My 'Year in Review' came up with a photo I'd posted following my Nonna's unexpected passing recently. It struck me as ill-considered, because their algorithm clearly can't distinguish why an image has been used – deceased relative, missing child, images taken following accidents or assaults – all things I've seen posted on Facebook this year which are hardly things you want to remember.
And some people have expressed similar complaints on Twitter.
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alan White at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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