As 2014 Ends, Facebook Apologizes For Its ‘Year In Review’ Gaffe

For the 1.25 billion people who use Facebook, you have seen the customizable photo slideshow Facebook created for each of it’s users called “Year In Review.” In the month of December, each Facebook user was given the gift of “memories” from Facebook by using algorithms to select photos and posts for each month of the year based on the number of “likes” they received.

Facebook then uploaded them into a virtual photo album that automatically popped up on the newsfeed upon logging in, to be shared with the user’s Facebook friends.

The default tagline for the “Year In Review” slideshow, according to Forbes, read, “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” However, unfortunately for some Facebook users, it was not a “great year” and certainly not one they wanted to remember. The ghost of memories past posts were meant to remain exactly there — in the past.

For some, the “Year In Review” was only a reminder of traumatic moments they want to forget, and certainly not ones they want to relive or share with others.

That is exactly the case for web designer and writer Eric Meyer. Earlier in the year, Eric lost his daughter to brain cancer on her sixth birthday. Meyer wrote in a blog that as soon as he pulled up his Facebook newsfeed, there it was — the “Year In Review” that Facebook created for him featuring his deceased daughters face in the cover photo surrounded by holiday party clip-art, as revealed by the Washington Post.

Meyer’s Facebook “Year In Review” popped up at the top of his newsfeed on December 24, asking him to customize and share. So, while parents all around the globe are preparing for Santa and enjoying their magical Christmas moments with their children, Meyer is bombarded with the reminder of his tremendous loss thanks to Facebook.

“I didn’t go looking for grief this afternoon, but it found me anyway. And I have designers and programmers to thank for it. In this case, the designers and programmers are somewhere at Facebook.”

Meyer realizes it was not intentional for Facebook to add to his grief and pain. Instead, he tells the Washington Post it was a “particularly unkind design flaw.”

“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.”

Meyer offered several alternatives for Facebook’s “Year In Review” in the future to avoid hurtful mistakes. According to Washington Post, Meyer recommended that Facebook leaves a blank space for a picture until it is confirmed by the user that they actually want to see pictures from the past year.

It’s possible that a simple “Yes” or “No” box to be checked by the Facebook user asking if they would like to preview the application as opposed to splashing it on the front of the newsfeed. These simple measures could assist programmers in planning for “worst-case scenarios.”

Jonathan Gheller, Facebook’s Product Director for the “Year In Review” app contacted Meyer after hearing his story and reading his blog. Gheller reveals that he is very sorry for the pain the preview feature caused Meyer, as reported by Washington Post.

“The app was awesome for a lot of people, but clearly in this case we brought him grief rather than joy.”

Gheller and the team behind the app are reviewing alternative options in order to improve the app and have said they will take Meyer’s concerns into consideration.

“It’s valuable feedback. We can do better — I’m very grateful he took the time in his grief to write the blog post.”

Facebook’s director of Product Design Margaret Gould Stewart said that Facebook also formed an Empathy Team. The Empathy Team is a group of individuals who are trained to handle a campaign when it fails, “feel the pain,” and find ways to improve in future endeavors.

Meyer accepted Facebook’s apology and appreciated it greatly when Gheller contacted him personally to apologize and committed to doing a better job in the future.

Meyer was so moved that he wrote a follow-up blog, according to Forbes, in which he stated that he felt he owed the “Year In Review” team an apology.

“I am very sorry that I dropped the Internet on his head for Christmas. He and his team didn’t deserve it.”

All’s well that ends well they say.

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