Inadvertent algorithmic cruelty

Dec 29, 2014

If you logged into Facebook the past couple of weeks, you saw your friends’ automatically generated year-end reviews. Estimated events and popular pictures appear in chronological order. Facebook eventually pinned your own year in review at the top of your feed for perusal. Seems harmless — until you realize there are people who don’t want to look back, like Eric Meyer, whose daughter died this year.

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.

See also Meyer’s follow-up. While many took the original post as a way to hate on Facebook, Meyer didn’t mean it like that.

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