Facebook has apologized to a grieving father for the pain inflicted by its “Year in Review” feature, the Washington Post reports.
The app automatically compiles photos posted by each user to create a personalized digital summary of highlights from the past year and sends a preview.
But Eric Meyer’s preview was “jarring.” A photo of his daughter, who died on her sixth birthday in June, was surrounded by illustrations of dancing figures, complete with balloons, and a caption enthusiastically declaring, “Eric, here’s what your year looked like!”
“Yes, my year looked like that. True enough,” he wrote. “My year looked like the now-absent face of my little girl. It was still unkind to remind me so forcefully.”
Meyer acknowledged that the app was generated by a computer algorithm that chose the photos based on the number of “likes” they got on Facebook.
“I know, of course, that this is not a deliberate assault,” he continued. “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 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.”
In his post, Meyer suggested Facebook provide a way for users to opt out of seeing the feature before it appears in front of them.
Facebook’s product manager for the “Year in Review” app, Jonathan Gheller, told the Washington Post he has reached out to Meyer and is personally very sorry for the pain it caused him.
“[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, adding that the company is looking at ways to improve it and will take Meyer’s concerns into account.