Facebook’s Illuminating Algorithmic Cruelty

The ever-presumptive and unremittingly faux-positive peer pressure of Facebook is doing its part this Christmas to re-open wounds of hurt from 2014 for a bunch of people. Their Year In Review combines algorithmically-selected photographs and text from Facebook postings throughout the year. It was probably conceived in good faith; they clearly anticipated it would promote thankfulness. I think it will be widely regretted rather than welcomed, for the reasons Eric Meyer explains in the moving post from which my title is adapted.

Facebook's assumption of celebration

Frankly my year was not one for balloons

They could definitely have phrased the accompanying text better, not to mention omitted the randomly-selected cover photo – the equivalent Year In Photos at Google+ doesn’t trigger me in the same way, maybe for lack of text. Better, they could have thought through the subject a little more and realised plenty of people, though thankful for so many things, may prefer an algorithm not to force them back through the year. Humans are able to act with discretion, and to know when they are presumptive. Computers are unable to act with any more discretion than their programmer, and usually much less.

My own year has had much that I value, but little of it has been shared with Facebook so my own edition is largely valueless. It also thankfully omits the things that make me cry, like the memory of my mother’s passing this spring or the six months of triage following it. If you’ve chosen to share with Facebook, this is a wake-up call that you have also given them the implicit permission to make you relive memories on command.

Frankly it’s no worse than the other things you’ve given them permission to do with the intimacies you’ve shared. They are just as free with advertisers and social data miners; you just don’t have that rubbed in your face. If you dislike “Year In Review” you probably will hate the things they do with your data without telling you (even if they have secured your permission in advance through their Terms of Service).

In case you were wondering, it’s safe to ignore it; the card displayed on your profile is only visible to you, and as long as you don’t press the “Share” button that appears when you view it, no-one else will see it. You can stop the reminder showing up by clicking the arrow in the top right corner (see below) and telling Facebook not to show the post again. Pity it wasn’t just a button and a “hide this” option for those of us who don’t list Facebook among our confidantes. Algorithms can’t exercise discretion; don’t use them for things that demand it.

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One Response

  1. […] I think it will be widely regretted rather than welcomed, for the reasons Eric Meyer explains and I expand. Algorithms can’t exercise discretion; don’t use them for things that demand […]

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