Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty

Published 9 years, 6 months past

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.

I know they’re probably pretty proud of the work that went into the “Year in Review” app they designed and developed, and deservedly so — a lot of people have used it to share the highlights of their years.  Knowing what kind of year I’d had, though, I avoided making one of my own.  I kept seeing them pop up in my feed, created by others, almost all of them with the default caption, “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.”  Which was, by itself, jarring enough, the idea that any year I was part of could be described as great.

Still, they were easy enough to pass over, and I did.  Until today, when I got this in my feed, exhorting me to create one of my own.  “Eric, here’s what your year looked like!”


A picture of my daughter, who is dead.  Who died this year.

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.

To show me Rebecca’s face and say “Here’s what your year looked like!” is jarring.  It feels wrong, and coming from an actual person, it would be wrong.  Coming from code, it’s just unfortunate.  These are hard, hard problems.  It isn’t easy to programmatically figure out if a picture has a ton of Likes because it’s hilarious, astounding, or heartbreaking.

Algorithms are essentially thoughtless.  They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs.  To call a person “thoughtless” is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.

Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out.  The Year in Review ad keeps coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds, as if celebrating a death, and there is no obvious way to stop it.  Yes, there’s the drop-down that lets me hide it, but knowing that is practically insider knowledge.  How many people don’t know about it?  Way more than you think.

This is another aspect of designing for crisis, or maybe a better term is empathetic design.  In creating this Year in Review app, there wasn’t enough thought given to cases like mine, or friends of Chloe, or anyone who had a bad year.  The design is for the ideal user, the happy, upbeat, good-life user.  It doesn’t take other use cases into account.

Just to pick two obvious fixes: first, don’t pre-fill a picture until you’re sure the user actually wants to see pictures from their year.  And second, instead of pushing the app at people, maybe ask them if they’d like to try a preview — just a simple yes or no.  If they say no, ask if they want to be asked again later, or never again.  And then, of course, honor their choices.

It may not be possible to reliably pre-detect whether a person wants to see their year in review, but it’s not at all hard to ask politely — empathetically — if it’s something they want.  That’s an easily-solvable problem.  Had the app been designed with worst-case scenarios in mind, it probably would have been.

If I could fix one thing about our industry, just one thing, it would be that: to increase awareness of and consideration for the failure modes, the edge cases, the worst-case scenarios.  And so I will try.

Note: There is a followup to this post that clarifies my original intent, among other things.

A slightly revised and updated version of this post was published at Slate.

Comments (274)

  1. Pingback ::

    Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty | The WordPress C(h)ronicle

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  2. We, the people of the internet who have watched your career, have all felt a deep pang of sympathy as we’ve read about the unfolding of your year. Our deepest condolences that Facebook should add to that pain so mindlessly.

    This year I went through divorce. A few months after my separation, Facebook suggested via a push message to my phone that I befriend my ex-wife’s lover. Thanks, Facebook!

    This doesn’t compare to your situation, of course, but it seems like wanton cruelty on their part not to do some kind of minimal sifting so that, for example, it doesn’t suggest creating a year to those in mourning or suggest friends of ex-partners for divorcees.

  3. My son died this year, so i understand the feeling. When i got the
    “picture” from Facebook, it was instead of myself and my mother, who died 2 years ago, and i reposted on the anniversary of her death. Not cool Facebook…some of us would rather not relive the year…..sigh…i guess we get what we pay for with them :(

  4. I’m sorry, Eric. I don’t like that you had to gain these insights the way you did. To notice them through jarring and/or painful experiences.

    Yes, I would like to try to “increase awareness of and consideration for the failure modes, the edge cases, the worst-case scenarios,” too. I have to do other projects (though with this in mind) to keep us going, but this has become a huge concern and interest of mine, as well.


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  6. “The average age of a Facebook employee is 31.”

    When you’re twenty, you still believe you’ll live forever.

    When you work in the Silicon Valley, at any age, you still believe you’ll live forever.

    Therefore it’s not surprising that this is a very blind spot for them.

  7. My picture was of Kurt Cobain, whom I had posted as part of a collage of him, Robin williams, and myself acting goofy. The point was that people suffering from the worst depression act goofy on the outside to cover up their pain.

    Three months later, my mother died of pancreatic cancer. Needless to say, my Facebook year is a pretty bleak one.

  8. Sorry for your loss and for your difficult year. I do agree that sentiment analysis is a “hard, hard problem”, but in this case, it seems like relatively simple heuristics could reduce such inadvertent cruelty.

    For example, if the cover image is to consist of something with the most likes/comments/shares in your feed…then it would be trivial to apply a filter that looks for comments in which the words “sorry/condolences/praying” etc. appear in at least 10% of the comments, or perhaps in the post text itself. Even if you were to manually create that filter for every language that Facebook exists in, it’d be a day job, at most, for an intern. And of course, there are more complicated heuristics or actual NLP that could be done, but why make it anymore complicated than the algorithm FB uses to group birthday-related posts together?

    In the end, it is a problem of myopia in the product group. It should be one that they’re acutely aware of: as they progress in their intent to make Facebook more ubiquitous in our lives, they have to be aware that FB, as a product, has to encompass all the complexities of modern life itself.

  9. Eric, I’m so sorry.

    How are the kids handling Rebecca not being there?

    Face book should give people a choice if they choose to see their year in review.

    I deliberately don’t post much, few photos of outings and very few restaurant photos. So now apparently I’ve spent my whole year eating out. Guess it’s better then telling people about my surgeries and hospital stays :-)

  10. Eric, I wish I could be so gracious in expressing my own pain. But I have to wonder who has lived such a perfect life that neitherthey nor anyone they know has ever had a bad year—or whether their algorithm for selecting pictures might produce an unpleasantly skewed “review” of the year gone by. Never a relationship gone sour, never a debilitating disease, never the untimely death of a loved one…

    For that matter, it seems that they must live completely isolated from news of Newtown or Ferguson or Sandy or Afghanistan or any other less-than-satisfying experience.

    Incredibly insensitive. For my part, I will keep each of you in my thoughts this holiday season. May you find peace and restoration and even joy, to the extent that it’s possible for you today.

  11. Oops. That made no sense. Try this:

    *a bad year—or even one experience that would lead them to consider whether their algorithm… might produce an unpleasantly skewed… “

  12. I’m so sorry for your loss. My mother died in February, and FB begins my Year in Review in April-May. I can’t even edit it to get January-March in there. It’s kind of the opposite problem — FB somehow erasing my loss.

  13. At worst, it is a mirror. It cannot show you anything you didn’t already know.

    Use it as such. Look closely at what you have presented to the world. Learn from that.

    Mirrors can hurt, or teach us about ourselves. Your choice.

  14. @nope

    But why celebrate or even silently tolerate what these things are when they are “at worst.”? Some of us would rather point out what is not good about designer/developer choices, so they will learn to be “at best.”

    If software decides not only how to present your year, without your permission, and does so with an invalidating party atmosphere (as shown in the photo above), the makers of the software have not been thinking outside their corner of the world or considered the wholeness of what people are going through in the rest of the world. They chose the photo, not Eric. They chose Eric’s story, not Eric, and didn’t offer a clear alternative in advance.

    They aren’t bringing up something that anyone has chosen to hide from, or has pretended never happened. Look at everything Eric has written. He most certainly doesn’t need a mirror. He has taken, over the past year, a careful and considered look at himself, his choices, his family, his experiences, and shared so much with the rest of us. He speaks for many people when he brings matters to the attention of the makers of software, and the makers of other apps, sites, etc.

    And, finally, I don’t think that people who haven’t lost a child or been through great suffering should instruct someone in a comment section about how to feel or what they should learn or tell them to make a choice. If, indeed, you have lost a child or been through great suffering, you would know that…or you would know not to offer unsolicited advice, especially in public. And if you have known what it is like, you know it isn’t up to you to decide what reaction Eric should have…or, perhaps, you’ve forgotten that. His choice is to help others by pointing out how these are experienced by many, and what should be changed.

    if we are in the business of making the internet—and thus the world—a better experience, then we should listen carefully when people who are going through crises and/or suffering point out the failings of our work, and take it to heart—and, then, to our jobs.

  15. Nope: I wonder what lesson you think he should have chosen to learn about himself. I gather you mean he should try to change himself and nothing else, which would be terribly convenient for those of us who don’t want to be bothered with anyone else’s problems. In any case, he did learn something: that such mirrors, unasked-for and presented persistently and without empathy, can cause needless pain — not just to himself, but to others. This led to him consider other people’ feelings and experiences and recommend some ways to help spare those people, as well as himself, that pain.

    I think he handled this as productively and as thoughtfully as anyone could. If you think his problem is him… well, maybe it’s you who needs another look in a mirror.

  16. whilst you may see it as incredibly hurtful – maybe try and see it as a celebration of the beautiful girl and the love you have for her?!

    that she existed at all – that you got the opportunity to love and cherish her – that you brought this beautiful, precious angel into the world and that her photo reminds to tell you that she is not gone – she is not far away… love is a powerful force and this may be a reminder that whilst her arms are not here to hold nor her adorable face to kiss – that her love – is in every breath you take, every movement of the wind, every sunrise and every sunset.

    you have my condolences – truly and lovingly – and I get to see the picture without the pain, sadly having never known her… but I see your pain too…

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  19. Sorry to hear that Facebook’s review of the year reflected part of your recent loss. However it does allow you to change anything you do not want there. So before posting it you can make changes.

  20. At the risk of stating the obvious:

    There is a preference setting to auto-hide things from your Timeline that you did not yourself expressly post.

    At present:

    Dropdown (next to lock) => “Activity Log” => “Timeline Review” (left column) => gear icon near top of middle column

    Activating the icon with your pointer/caret will open a modal dialog, in one corner of which lies an Enable/Disable button.

    So nobody sees my Year in Review, just the post I wrote in its place. It’s public, so the more-observant among you can get at it if you like.

  21. Our sympathies – this is truly a tough loss to bear.

    On the product side,this is a colossal failing – not anticipating when this will fail. Guess when there is a rush to out-innovate other groups in a company, these things are bound to happen…

  22. Pingback ::

    Facebook’s algorithm cruelty | IDentifEYE

    […] us a summary of our past year. Cory Doctorov writes: “in Eric Meyer’s case, the photo was of his daughter, who died this year“. Meyer comments: “To show me Rebecca’s face and say “Here’s what your year […]

  23. Facebook’s year review app is a cruel thing for those of us who had a horrible year. I lost my mother after a brief battle with cancer and life since has not been the same.

    But looking back – is it so difficult to ensure the app can recognise the sort of year one had had? Aren’t algorithms built which can identify phrases and words which could indicate joy or sadness? I think its not just about a worst-case scenario. Facebook could have but chose not to give a damn for people who would have had a shattering or trying last 12 months.

  24. I was only annoyed, and a little saddened, to see my dead parents (a photo I posted after my mother died this year) pop up in my feed. But each time I clicked “I don’t want to see this,” my mobile facebook crashed. And when I opened it up again, there they were once more, dad kissing mom’s hand after waltzing with her at a party. A picture I want to keep, when I want to go looking for it. After “I don’t want to see this” proved repeatedly ineffectual and the problem kept recurring, I started getting angry. This loss, while painful, must be much less than what you and your family have experienced, still experience. May her memory always be a blessing.

  25. Thanks for writing this. I’m amazed by some of the comments, seeming to suggest this kind of thing is inevitable and we should just learn to accept it and draw meaning from it. It sounds like pre-modern people trying to justify the mysterious and occasionally cruel workings of God. Facebook isn’t God–it’s some twentysomethings working out in Silicon Valley, and we don’t have to accept their product, and we can certainly try to tell them how it isn’t working for us (not that they’ll listen). What makes it difficult is that Facebook is often a source of community and support during trying times, so it doesn’t make sense to say “just quit if you don’t like it.” Facebook is hugging you with one arm and punching you with the other. I’m sorry for your loss and that you were confronted with it in this way.

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  28. Eh, decided to go anonymous with this comment, because I know all the backlash I’ll receive. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the employees at Facebook for this. I put myself in their shoes, and I would’ve never thought of this. I’ve had family die, been cheated on, lost a job, all in the last year. I’ve got to question the people who post that on Facebook. Who does that? “Hey everyone, I was cheated on. Welp, enjoy the rest of your day”. Facebook is where you post good things that happen in your life, not the terrible ones. That’s probably what they’re were thinking…

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  30. > If I could fix one thing about our industry, just one thing, it would be that: to increase awareness of and consideration for the failure modes, the edge cases, the worst-case scenarios. And so I will try.

    Well said. Let’s all work on that.

    Very thoughtful post, sir. All the hugs. <3

  31. I’m so sorry. My losses are not in the same league as losing a child, but 4 deaths this year: my father, a close friend my age from cancer, a new friend who never became an old friend, and a step aunt, plus Southern Gothic drama and pain in my extended family makes 2014 one of my worst ever. Thank you for writing this post and for posting it. My Year in Review started and ended with pictures of my dad and me. It startled me and it hurt, but for me it was a way of sharing the reality so I posted it. If I had lost a child – I’d like to think I’d be brave enough to do what you did. I’m so very sorry for your loss. ❤️

  32. I’m truly sorry for your loss but we cannot blame Facebook for what happen. Facebook hasn’t forced this on anyone. You say your daughter passed this year, so if you knew seeing her picture would hurt you why do you still have it on your Facebook profile? Anyone could have regenerated that picture simply by liking it or leaving a comment under it Facebook hasn’t forced anything on us because I haven’t received a notification informing me to create one. Lets learn today that any and everything you post on the internet you can not get back or delete.

  33. Facebook did the same to me; it showed me the same party background and a big picture of my dad who passed away this summer :(

  34. I understand this as I lost my mother last year, however, I refuse to use Facebook so didn’t have an issue like this. I am however, very tired of all the algorithmic emails I get, getting old. I had to go through Mom’s emails and online accounts, and she had quite a bit.

    Be aware too of the data selling business out there as a bot is worth $100 on Facebook and humans are worth 1-2 cents, techno serfs that do what the bot can’t do, good video from Sean Gourley, physicist and mathematician. It’s one of the videos at the Killer Algorithms page.

    Be aware too of how our personal data is sold right and left and so some of this information may show up again and again. There’s a lot of algorithmic cruelty out there we have to deal with. I’m a former developer myself and there’s just too much of a lot of this.

  35. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Eric. As a father of a 10 year old daughter, I am terribly sorry for the loss of your beautiful daughter. I agree with everything you said. When I saw these albums popping up everywhere it was annoying, but never considered how much pain it could cause for someone who has had tragedy during the year. This is a good lesson for all of us who design software. As you said, algorithms fall down and in this case when they do, it is hurtful. Yes, be more considerate, yes make it opt-in, yes let me have a checkbox to make it go way!

    Keep strong and thanks for your honesty and for your courage in sharing
    your experiences.

  36. Eric, I’m so sorry.
    I would find it even better when this is no longer shown on facebook.

  37. Very bang on piece. I can’t conpare my loss to yours, but my ‘year in review’ was a picture of me, my wife of less than 1 year, and the guy she left me for that we had met on vacation. Thanks for that painful reminder Facebook. That’s exactly the album I want to share with my friends.

  38. …And to the charmer who in reply to my earlier comment sent an anonymous, profanity-laden tirade via the web2mail form on my site:

    1. OF COURSE I have a grasp of tragedy; you have no idea of how I fit in here, but the proprietor certainly does. A number of people reading might want to avoid showing their Year in Review posts to everybody, particularly given that many here were invested in the events of the past year and prior, and would never want to risk putting their Facebook friends through something like that. Light a lantern instead of cursing the darkness, I say.

    2. Maybe I do suffer from an undiagnosed ASD, but it’s not your place to judge, especially when you proceed to accompany your layman’s diagnosis with value judgments.

    3. I’ve forwarded the message with full headers to the Time Warner network abuse folks. (Network analysis tools are great.) I figure I’m not the first person who’s gotten this treatment from you.

    Happy holidays!

    P.S. Apologies to those who feel this straddles the boundaries of the conduct policy. I DO NOT TOLERATE BULLYING, and the message I received read a lot like that.

  39. Ben,

    You sent a direct, helpful bit of information to help people. You didn’t add critiques of Eric’s feelings, or justification for what Facebook needs to change and what every site should keep in mind (the real lives of people.) Though it burns, I guess you have to consider that an anonymous putdown of you is from a troll. It’s shameful.

    To those (not you, Ben) who think that Facebook only shows the happy moments, I beg to differ. MANY groups of people with illnesses, etc. have pages there, and the individuals in those groups often include what they are going through in their posts. I belong to a group whose members have a certain type of brain tumor. I can only imagine seeing a party atmosphere around a picture of someone showing the stitches in their head after their craniotomy.

    One of the points here is the default setting. There should be a “Would you like to make a Year in Review?” That should be the default.

    As for not being able to change Facebook or anything else on the web, keep in mind that the web used to be a place in which EVERY VERSION OF EVERY BROWSER interpreted HTML and CSS differently. It was the time of Browser Wars. Eric is one of the people who was very active in a movement to change all of the standards in the industry, and the web industry was radically changed as a result. It’s good to know the history of the web. It makes us bold, it reminds us that as individuals and as a group, YES, WE CAN CHANGE THINGS. And sometimes that change begins with one person telling his or her story.

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  42. One of things that needs to be considered about this kind of algorithmic approach is that for each and every one of us, it is almost certain to kick us at the end of a bad year sooner or later.

  43. Part of it is a failure of a system that pulls talent from a pretty narrow pool. If your biggest problem is deciding between finding a roommate for your San Francisco apartment or illegally listing your extra bedroom on AirBnB, things like the death of a child, divorce, or job loss aren’t on your radar.

    The team on this didn’t think it through. I’m on a job hunt and, in the meantime, make ends make via the ride share services. I drive a lot of tech folks around, hear a lot of stories and see the demographic first hand.

    My year had some bad moments and isn’t one I want to review. Sure enough, FB gave me the option to review and post my year too. It shall remain private.

    Let’s hope that next year they get it and give folks the option to opt out.

  44. Two things make me sad here.

    Of course, the most prominent one is that you — and undoubtedly so many other people — suffer from having painful reminders thrust at you. Whether it’s FB’s newsfeed, watching TV news, reading feeds online, etc… particularly for those of us who have had difficult or depressing years, this is awful.

    But at the same time, much of the scorn and vitriol I’m seeing here against FB programmers and other ‘geeks’ is also sad. The implication by many that these folks are callous, indifferent, clueless… this is unfair, broadly incorrect, and counterproductive. It muddies the more important message, assigning blame rather than encouraging people to work together to make things better.

    Yes, FB needs to do better in this situation and others. But as someone who has friends who work there, I know firsthand that they care about the people who use their service. At least a couple of these friends, in fact, have had awful years… and to imply that no Facebooker’s have endured a tragic loss… that’s simply asinine.

    Eric, this is not directed at you. Your post was thoughtful and IMHO important as well; people in nearly every industry (education, service, technology, etc.) need to strive to be more empathetic. Rather, my frustration is stemming from some of the comments I’ve read here and elsewhere (“the web biz is dominated by socially inept privileged corporate drones“)

    Anyway, thank you for posting this. Wishing you peace during this challenging time and beyond.

  45. My wife and I have lost 3 babies through miscarriage in the last couple of years. I posted about it on fb. Therefore a post that got a large and heartfelt sympathetic response from friends and family when we lost number 3 popped up last year with the 10 years of fb posts.

    It is was poignant, touching and painful all at the same time.

    But…these are our lives. These are our lives online. We all have these moments that remind us about pain and loss. Whether it’s a song played, a familiar fragrance, a movie on TV that we went to see with a lost loved one.

    These things crop up all around us, all the time but many of us probably take deep breaths and tell ourselves that time is a healer.

    Eric. I’m so sorry for your lost. We are blessed with a five year old and I can’t even bring myself to wander down the “what if” thought process.

    I think your posting will be important and influential for future review features on Facebook. I’m not sure I would be too quick to be overly critical of fb on this though. I suspect that for a very large number of people their review year was really joyous as mine was whilst recognising some really tough health issues I’ve had this year.

    Sometimes people are triggers for grief totally inadvertently and I think maybe that’s what’s happened here.

    I’ll leave you with a story of how I was once such a trigger.

    I’m a teacher and in the course of playing the fool with some high schoolers I broke into song from a children’s film. However, one of my students leapt to her feet and ran out of the door distraught. Little did I know that this song had a special significance for her and her late father and had been played at his funeral six months earlier. I felt so bad but realised there was no way it could have been prevented.

    Sometimes things come along and just knock the wind out of our sails. For my wife and I it’s when we hold a baby with one of the names we had chosen.

    A long post I know but death robs and steals from us all. My sympathies.

  46. I’m very sorry for your loss. As parent of a baby son I can’t imagine how hard it was.

    Something very similar happened earlier this year, wherein Facebook made me into a bystander at the grief of a total stranger. My thoughts on it are here:

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  50. Thank you all for your responses. I wish I could reply to them all right away. I just… I had no idea the post would trigger so much response. It’s been a little bit surreal. And of course today was a bit busy with presents, friends, cookie decorating, and an outing to see Big Hero 6, so I’m just now getting back to where I can comment.

    Still, there are two things I do want to say before things get any later. First, Ben, I’m sorry that you were attacked by someone over your comment. I don’t know if it was another commenter, and I sincerely hope not, but in any event I’m not happy that one of my guests treated another with such disrespect. It was uncalled for, and inappropriate.

    Second, Adam, I very much agree with you. The post was not meant as an indictment of Facebook or of geeks in general, and it’s bothered me to see it used that way. I don’t think anyone at Facebook was callous or indifferent, nor do I think they were uniquely short-sighted. They just didn’t consider how their design would be received in non-ideal cases. In this, they’re hardly alone. It happens all the time, on all kinds of web sites (and beyond the web, too, but web design is my field).

    Again, my thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I truly appreciate all that you’ve shared.

  51. My deepest condolences Eric. I have three children, my oldest daughter is the same age as your daughter, and it literally pains me to tears reading your account of losing her. No parent should have to survive by their children, and though you don’t know me, I wish I could do something to ease your grief. I cannot imagine what it is like to lose one of my children, an I’m so sorry you have to experience that.

    Thank you for openly sharing your experience, your family is in my thoughts and prayers.

  52. I’m so sorry for your tragic loss. My best friend died in October, after a freak accident, which has left me in a downward spiral of awful thoughts and feelings that I’m attempting to put behind me. In our mourning lots of my friends re-uploaded and re-tagged a lot of photos with him. The photo Facebook’s algorithm chose to use for my “year” was us two having a great time together – about three years ago. It physically pains me to see all of these photos again but it helps to look through them sometimes. That being said, I do not understand how arbitrarily the algorithm chooses a photo, nor do I appreciate the “here’s what your year looked like” as if somehow the program senses that this arbitrary photo is at all representative of anything that occurred this year. It feels painful, unfair, and like just another reason not to use support or use Facebook any longer.

  53. Adam, I have friends at Facebook, too, some of whom I love and/or admire greatly. But it’s not only fair, but also very important, to challenge what they were thinking and to urge them to get it right, which is what Eric wrote about. And this is true for all who work on the web, in a wide range of companies, but the case at hand IS Facebook.

    As he said, ““I have designers and programmers to thank for it (his grief). In this case, the designers and programmers are somewhere at Facebook.” The process and the resulting algorithm are damaging to many people, far more than just the people speaking here. Eric called it “unkind” and an “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty,” and worse. I think it’s unfair of you to laud him and then sweep everyone else into a lump of “scorn and vitriol,” an “asinine” group who “sadden” you. You’ve actually muddied the waters by identifying all of us as thinking or expressing ourselves identically.

    Some of us have said that this kind of work—a work toward a better, more empathetic web, that would mainly require just pausing to think—is a life goal. But change, particularly at the grassroots level, historically starts with pointing to a problem and describing how bad it feels. The people who work at Facebook who have had terrible years could have brought their experience to the product and questioned it. That’s an important point to make. They had an opportunity to bring that up…but, then, the ways to avoid what happened to Eric and many others, are clear to them. Much at Facebook and other large companies regarding opt-ins and opt-outs and privacy is unclear to literally millions of people. Even producing something we didn’t ask for and showing it to us privately is something we may not want at all. That’s why other voices must be raised, and a good look given by a second pair of eyes, and a third, and a thousandth, and just as with the women’s movement and racially-based oppression, those who are not in a position of power must tell their stories and will not always tell them politely. If a company depends on, as Eric said, a thoughtlessly cruel algorithm, what are we to do? We are to speak up. We can show support for Facebook friends without criticizing the people who are hurt by the things Facebook does (and has done repeatedly).

    If a few people here—a minority—have said that it’s because people at Facebook are all twenty-somethings, I agree that it is not necessarily the cause at all, and quite possibly completely inaccurate. I agree that this isn’t the place to read the minds of people working on projects, but it IS entirely fair to judge the results. People are just trying to find a reason for this cruel oversight, and I think the response of some is a reflection of the intensity of hurt that this failed process caused (and people who’ve written here aren’t responsible for things written other places.) People who have been hurt by something at Facebook aren’t always going to express themselves in a measured way, just as you wouldn’t necessarily react calmly and use good, critical thinking if someone nice, who is a good person, who is a friend of yours standing next to you, suddenly backhanded you across the face. That’s what these things feel like to those who have been suffering. I have had experiences with a number of insurance companies and doctors. I have many things to point out. The pain of dealing with a poor user experience grows exponentially. I’m sure that, in each case that I hope to discuss, there will be people who are friends with the designers, developers, content people, etc. at each one of these companies who want to tell me how well-meaning their friends are. It doesn’t matter if they are nice, if we’re talking about my experience. It does matter A LOT if they turn out to be people who listen and make changes in response.

    Many of us are trying to work on a better web. And others of us, right along with Eric, are expressing not only that, but also a grief that, in the moment, is mixed with anger or frustration, and has finally found one place to be expressed.

  54. This is not something specific to Facebook nor am I casting blame
    their way. I see this as a product of the fact that we are getting much more deply intertwined socially with technology and this is posing new

    I realized after my last post that I also have been touched by this but in a
    different way, though it is a similar problem.

    A few years ago my step-brother Howadd and step-dad both passed away in a two week span. My step bother got a rare form of cancer and was gone two weeks
    after being diagnosed. A few months later, Facebook notified me suggesting that I haven’t talked to him in a while and maybe I should send him a message. I cried when that happened. In this case his account had not been
    closed and so FB determined based on that fact that we used to communicate a
    lot that maybe it should remind me. I am not sure what could be done in this case. When someone passes away, worrying about closing their FB account etc
    is not even on the list of concerns.

  55. Eric, thanks for speaking up. You are categorically free of responsibility; we have enough friends in common and I’ve seen enough of your work to figure confidently that you in no way condone that sort of behavior. Further, there are a lot of people who resent the attention I’ve earned by virtue of work I’ve done behind the scenes that they will never hear of.

    Between that and my talent for conveying certainty when I feel it, the sentiment that my mystery correspondent expressed was relatable; however, his (or possibly her-but-I-doubt-it) approach to expressing it was… execrable. I’ve written about it here because I want people to know not that I was ill-treated, but instead to know that there’s an asshat lurking in some corner or another of their midst… rather like a meerkat warning of predators.

    Meanwhile, we’re here because of a burden we’ve all tried to share in the hope that it will make lighter the parts of it exclusive to you and your family; that someone would use that as an excuse to spew at anyone is a course of events I find disgusting.

  56. As long as Facebook reduces any simple expression of engagement and connection as “like” they will perpetuate this kind of gross misreading. How many of us click “like” because the post-er advises us it will interpreted as something else, or because we recognise that it might more accurately be taken, in a given context, to mean “agree” or “I feel for your” or “this doesn’t need words” or even “this gave me a moment’s passing amusement” – or all manner of other things.

  57. My sister died this year – which ripped out my heart and literally helped me lose my religion. THANKS FACEBOOK for reminding me! The only photos that showed up were the ones we put into her funeral bulletin, because I shared them with the family on FB. Major SUCKAGE.

  58. This wasn’t a failure mode, it’s a deliberate design decision by fb to push things in your face without asking. They’ve made a corporate decision to invade your life, to make everything they do, and every change they make, an opt out, or to not give people a choice at all. It’s not like lots of people haven’t filed comments about this approach since near their very beginning.

    They get away with it by being a hub for communications and digital socializing, from local to international levels.

  59. Hi Eric, so sorry for the loss of your beautiful daughter. I too wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. In the midst of a divorce this year due to alcohol abuse which is tearing the family apart, I was unwilling to watch others videos due to the pain of shattered dreams. But in my feed it keeps coming up with ‘my’ video – headed by a picture of my wonderful brother who we lost to suicide a few years ago. No it’s not something I want to celebrate; yes I do love looking at photos of him, but NOT in that corny little video they keep offering in unexpected moments. It really knocks it out of you when you see their face so unexpectedly. Thankyou so much for writing this, as I felt like I was the only one.

  60. i understand your pain and i am sorry for your loss. i too lost a child this year and it was also on my ‘year ‘ on facebook. but instead of being sad i took it as a sign that my daughter was indeed watching over me and was still a main aspect of my life, which she will be until i go meet her in heaven.

  61. Yes Facebook made one as well for me after losing my baby girl at 36 weeks. I did not want to look back at my year… What if like many had a shit year down right horrible year. Facebook did not think about the reality of peoples lives that you could have lost a loved one, or got divorced, lost a job, a home or anything that could have made this year one not to look back on. Facebook you need to make this app one that people make on there own and not just made for you. It is our lives we live them and choose if we want to look back at a year we lived not you.

  62. Simply a Hug from Italy.
    Sorry for your child.


  63. I’ve been avoiding Facebook for the holidays so I haven’t seen any of these. I think I’ll keep avoiding it a little longer.

  64. My deepest sympathy for your loss, and my greatest respect for your courage.

  65. Pingback ::

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  66. This happened to me and my partner as well. First thing on Christmas morning he sees a photo prominently displayed of a former partner on his deathbed last Spring. An emotional tsunami resulted, all Christmas plans canceled and we spent the day coping with a crisis re-lived.
    For me, this is just another example of the many, many things about Facebook I find destructive and sociopathic. I quit my account years ago and have been happier since – I wish my partner would do the same. Maybe now he will consider it.

    My sincere condolences to Eric.

  67. My pre-made year in review popped up with a photo of the puppy we had to put down when her cancer couldn’t be treated. Doesn’t compare to the loss of a child but it’s a reminder that a death is one of the few sad events we are likely to post a specific note & photo about (which then garners widespread response and marks it as important). For all the data-collection facebook does, surely they know this and could have anticipated this result. It would have been much less jarring if I had selected to make my video and that had been a suggested photo rather than going to my wall and unexpectedly seeing her face staring back at me from a weird postmortem christmas card. I’m so sorry you had to experience that with you daughter.

  68. I am very sorry you suffered this too. After an 18 month long battle and a very hard decline at the end, I lost my husband of 19 years to pancreatic cancer in October. My face on the cover was his face. My highlight moment was the post I posted the first day I woke up without him in this world. A very painful post. Not to be surrounded by confetti. No doubt they are pulling the posts that garnered the most response. However, not to consider the fact that those posts could have as easily been bad things as good…boggles my mind. I too think an opt out button would have been brilliant. Or better yet, the person has to click and opt IN to have their year in review created and posted. My “great year” was marked, surrounded by bright confetti, by the worst days of my life. I am so sorry for you not only in the loss of your daughter, but by having this monstrosity on your page. I know exactly what it feels like to see that, and it sucked. Take care.


  69. Thank you for this. My father died the day after Thanksgiving and, since the pic I posted of him and my daughter generated the most engagement I had on my Facebook page all year, it was of course the lead photo. It was jarring and upsetting to see, even though I understood it was an algorithm making the choice, not a person. I agree with everything you said above about the need for these programs to be designed with the worst case scenario in mind. My heart also goes out to your family. As a mom myself, I am devastated to read about your loss.

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  71. Great piece. Mine was a picture of a dead loved one as well (albeit a much-missed cat.) considering the year I’ve had (sudden abandonment, vicious divorce, burglary, many other negative events, mostly not documented on Facebook at least) I opted out of taking part. Your suggestion is a good one.

  72. @nope Dancing people and balloons around a photo of your deceased little girl is more than just a mirror

  73. My grandmother who passed this year was my main image… it was sad to see that being the main reminder of my year… Hard to imagine what it would have felt like if it was my daughter.

    Sorry for your loss.

  74. Even though my year wasn’t bad, I immediately took notice of the context these years in review presented to us. Each and every “theme” was upbeat. As a designer, I practice what I call “pragmatic activism.” I have the ability to see problems that might arise down the project development timeline. Someone described this in an article, calling people like me “pragmatic pessimists.” I’ve changed the term because it’s not pessimism that drives me. It’s that empathy you have described. And, I immediately noticed that limitation that, unfortunately, hit you over the head, Eric.

    While my year wasn’t all that bad, it had its moments but, it wasn’t just me. I wanted my year to reflect a broader sense than just me. And so I heavily customized my year in review. We have all participated in one way or another with a huge cultural tsunami that includes Ferguson, Eric Gardner, and the suffering of millions. And I simply wanted my year to include, not just some personal highlights but also things that affected me deeply.

    But the only part of the customization I couldn’t change were the themes.

  75. I am so sorry to hear about your loss. May you find comfort in the days to come.

  76. I know what it’s like to lose a child. I lost my 22 month old son in february. When it happened there was negative media coverage so I asked users not to post any tributes about Daniel’s death on any social media channels, and it’s been very well observed. Id suggest re-evaluating whether or not there is anything to gain by having images or posts of your daughter on your facebook account. As a digital CX professional myself, I commend you for raising awareness of the fundamental insensitivities of this algorhythm, I wish you well, and please feel free to reach out if you want.

  77. If these web sites weren’t so busy sifting through our personal data, trying to figure out for us what we do or don’t want, this type of thing would not happen. The “rude thing” that they do, is making the assumption that they have the right to do this. And it is always rude – not just in some cases, and never inadvertently.
    “But you’re using their web site,” some people will say, as if that somehow gave them the right. If a friend asked if they could store some stuff at your house, would you then feel you have the right to go pawing through their stuff? I think most people would realize how creeped out their friend would be if they did. It’s the same exact feeling of violation we get from these web sites.

  78. Hi Eric,

    Conolences. I too have lost a child many years ago, and although others say ‘time heals all things’…it doesn’t go away. Finding a way to help others though, helps reshape that loss.

    Please don’t forget the laughter that they brought you, as that immediately reconnects, without tears. It is a struggle but the first year is just immured in the ‘hole’ in all your lives.

    FB’s algorithms completely eschew ‘Likes’ into ‘Most Popular’ feeds. It’s bizarre what an automatically generated ‘Year’ looks like as it’s completely without an subtlety.

    Wishing you all the very best for a new insightful year.


  79. Eric,

    Thanks for sharing this; I’m sure it was hard to frame your thoughts around such a painful experience. It’s odd because I’ve been using Facebook recently to follow my nephew’s recovery from a near-fatal accident. It’s a bit scary when an algorithm can deliver such opposite results based on 1 key detail. Your choice not to blame the FB developers is admirable. But the decision to adopt a “world domination” mantra by Silicon Valley start-ups (Uber anyone?) is really the problem, because it becomes the corporate culture and the single goal of the company. It wouldn’t have been hard to get this right, they just need to try.

    ps – it’s too bad there are no workshops in Canada. You should come up here in 2015.

  80. I am so sorry to hear of your loss Eric. Your article really hit home. I couldn’t believe when I started seeing these fly by my timeline. I knew I was going to be prompted by FB to create one. With the loss of my mom and sister to cancer a month apart and then the sudden loss of my 29 year old niece a few months later…I got to thinking – 2014 a great year? – yeah, not so much.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  81. This post is terribly sad. I am sorry for anyone that had losses this year. It hurts. I had several and Facebook made note of them in my year end.

    In the end though it is a website and an algorithm that is making choices based on how it was programmed. I doubt that the programmer or Facebook would intend to be so cruel.

    I used the Customize link at the bottom of what Facebook put together for me and put everything in an order that I wanted and then I posted it to my page. I left the losses but was able to represent them in a way that I wanted. The other choice was to not publish it at all. I chose to change it and then post it.

  82. One thing: Facebook can and should do whatever they feel like. If you don’t like them having access to family photos and events, simply share those things another way. Not everything has to be digital just because that’s prominent. People are born and die all year long. But our culture views death so negatively. If someone who died comes up in a feed, smile because you love them, cry because you miss them, and be wise enough to know the Internet and facebook.

  83. …And six hours ago, the following was filed at the Washington Post:

    Facebook’s ‘Year in Review’ app swings from merely annoying to tragic

  84. This is a great example of why I hate it when computers are made to try to think for us. The programmers should NOT have anticipated that everybody had a good year worth repeating. At the very least, this should’ve been an opt-in thing with an easy to find “click here to make one” link or button. Your situation shows that perfectly. At best, it should’ve been opt-in AND let you choose exactly what parts of your year you wanted to show off. A good middle ground would have been to detect posts about loved ones who’ve died & stuff like that, then auto-generate without drudging up horrible emotions.

  85. Carolyn, I apologize for apparently painting folks in this thread with too broad of a brush. I was especially frustrated from the combination of what I was seeing in the comments here[1] and, moreso, some of the vitriol I was seeing in threads elsewhere. From your followup comment, it seems clear that you and I are absolutely in agreement about the tragedy of the situation and that Facebook can and should do better. Luckily, it looks like Facebook is indeed in agreement as well[2].

    [1] Some of the comments: “When you work in the Silicon Valley, at any age, you still believe you’ll live forever.”

    “seems like relatively simple heuristics could reduce such inadvertent cruelty.”

    “Facebook could have but chose not to give a damn”

    “a bot is worth $100 on Facebook and humans are worth 1-2 cents”

    “it’s a deliberate design decision by fb to push things in your face without asking. They’ve made a corporate decision to invade your life…”

    “If these web sites weren’t so busy sifting through our personal data…”

    [2] From this Washington Post article quoting the guy at FB who made the year in review feature:

    Update: Jonathan Gheller, the product manager for Facebook’s “Year in Review” app said he has reached out to Meyer and is personally very sorry for the pain the preview feature caused Meyer.

    “[The app] was awesome for a lot of people, but clearly in this case we brought him grief rather than joy,” he told the Post. The team behind the app is considering ways to improve it for next time and will take Meyer’s concerns into account, he said, although he did not comment on if they would follow Meyer’s specific suggestions.

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

  86. Thank you so much for this. I am so sorry for your loss. My timeline felt much the same. Starting with a picture of my cousin who died in a horrific accident on Christmas Eve last year and rounding out my year highlighting my failed IVF cycles in my 6 year quest to become a parent. As a programmer myself I too find it disheartening that there is no way to opt out without foisting pain upon us.

  87. What a stupid idea FB came up with. I didn’t look at my own YIR. By default, it wasn’t shared with anyone. I don’t have time to look at all of my Friends’ YIRs, especially since FB, and not my Friends, put them together, and they contain stuff I’ve seen already. I click on “don’t want to see posts like this” over and over, but they still keep coming. Maybe Facebook Purity has a fix for this.

  88. I can relate to this and I was horrified to see my pics in that “thing”, I lost my partner of 18 years in February of this year, my Sussex Spaniel of 8 years in January, my ex-husband; father of my daughter in February, also. Then, just three weeks ago, I lost my other dog of thirteen years.

    So, needless to say to open “my year” was a painful journey through my year all over again. Only condensed into a few pictures with headings.

    I do not begrudge other people their happiness, but at least FB should have enough savvy to know that not all of us had a red letter year.


  89. Thank you for articulating my thoughts the last few days. I lost my father just a few months ago and I don’t need the constant reminder of how tough it’s been for my family.

  90. Thanks, Adam. I appreciate it. And you made a good point in emphasizing that, while there there is often a human-constructed algorithm doing the dirty deed, there are caring people at either end of the algorithm—the ones who are suffering and the ones who are making the software or the experience around it. And sometimes, unfortunately, those are the very same people.

    We “just” need to be the voices that awaken people to what and who have been overlooked when the algorithm or the feature is used. I’m happy to be in agreement with you.

  91. My “year in review” began with a picture my Grandmother and I and my Grandmother had passed away at the beginning of the year! I ended up changing the picture to one that wouldn’t make me emotional by clicking the “customize” button at the bottom of the story.

  92. Mom died this year and I posted a picture of her in her 30’s looking very beautiful and timeless. I could’t stop laughing(in a dark humor sort of way) at the stupidity of Facebook taking it upon themselves to post her picture in the middle of a party themed frame with a comment to look at my year in review. My Mom would’ve laughed at the fact that some faceless,insensitive Facebook employee thought this would be a great idea for Christmas memories. I showed it to all family members as we all commented on how ridiculous they were to come up with such a dumb -ss idea. New Years resolution, no more Facebook!

  93. I too was assaulted with wedding pictures with my recently deceased husband. I immediately skipped it. Don’t want or need any reminders of what I’m missing this holiday. Thanks Facebook for trying to decide what is good in my life without any knowledge.

  94. THANK YOU. You could not be more accurate. My wife died three weeks ago. I did NOT want to see her picture popping up on Facebook unless I put it there. About ready to ragequit FB.

  95. Thank you Eric – for opening hearts and minds… you are an inspiration.

  96. When mine came up, it featured a photo of my cat that had died this past year. I thought to myself that someone was going to see a dead family member, because, as the post about my cat dying was one of my most commented upon, it was obvious that they were using that as a attribute to go from.

    Sad and thoughtless design.

  97. This same thing happened to me. My mom died totally unexpected on August 2nd. I got the “it was a great year thanks for being a part of it” with her picture as the cover because it was the most commented on because of all the RIP messages. I clicked the “i don’t want to see this” link but every time i log into facebook there it is again asking me if I want to post it to my timeline. It’s just gut wrenching every single time. Such a fail on facebooks part. How they didn’t think this through is just beyond me.

  98. I have had a horrible year as well. People I trusted turned out to be dirt-bags and betrayed me, people that I thought had scruples and values proved not to, rich people are getting richer and showing little concern for ones who have little, the America that I grew up in and served the military for is turning its back on much of its citizenry, and I have had severe health issues to boot. I have only to think that God has greater plans for me to continue serving him in ways that will help out mankind in the process as, that is what I treasure most. I am so sorry that Facebook thought it was doing good and unfortunately, computers have no sense that human’s lives are more complicated and, not everything has a fairytale ending.

  99. Eric, I am so sorry. 2013 was a pretty bad year for us, and I remember celebrating New Years Eve 2013, thinking that 2014 would be better! It HAD to be better. No. It didn’t. 2014 was the worst year I have ever experienced. My beautiful 32 year old son died from severe brain trauma three weeks after an accident. He passed away on my birthday. Just yesterday I spread his ashes at his grandparents’ 40 acre “ranch” where he fished and rode four-wheelers and horses for almost thirty years. It hurts so terribly to lose a child. I’m so, so sorry.

  100. Ugh, I’m so sorry :( This is as awful as Fb refusing to let accounts of those who have passed be dectivated. One of my high school friends drowned during our freshman year of college (6 years ago) and every freaking year, Fb cheerfully reminds me when it’s his birthday. Shut up, Facebook.

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  102. I had the exact same thing happened to me. I lost my sister this year to cancer, and my dad is currently fighting a life threatening infection, and Facebook keeps telling me what a great year it’s been. I don’t know anyone that would think that this is a great year and am horrified at the insensitivity of so many programmers who have absolutely no life experience and clearly no tragedy to which they can empathize.

  103. @Rachel (comment 100) – You can get the account memorialised. See for more information and for the form that needs to be filled in to memorialise an account.

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  105. It is almost inconceivable that someone in the Facebook employee group that put this “year in review” in motion on Facebook did not mention in one or more of the meetings that maybe out of the hundred of millions of active “Facebookers” that someone may have had a bad year. So I can only conclude that Facebook simply didn’t give a damn…and that’s really intercoursed up…

  106. I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your life’s gem, Eric.. Being a father myself, I am extremely very sorry the technology forced to go through such griefful event.. again ..

    Very sorry about reading the heartbreaking events the fellow commenters went through 2014 ..

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  108. Our son died in January. Of course, I’m responsible for seeing what I put on Facebook, but having an opt-in or opt-out version of this instead of being just bombarded with it would have saved me extra pain. I know I don’t want to look at my year in review- it doesn’t matter that I won’t be posting it for others to see- I don’t want to see mine at all. I also had the displeasure of my app crashing every time I tried to tell it that I didn’t want to see this. Grief is constant. I’m always missing my son. There are hundreds of little painful, unexpected jabs every single day. I don’t need extra ones from Facebook and I don’t think it’s fair to say that just because I still want to participate in a social network that connects me with far flung family, friends and other grieving parents that help support me, that I should just take whatever comes with it. FB can be great, but this particular tool was off the mark for a lot of people. Thank you so much for writing about it- you spoke for a lot of us.

  109. I completely concur with the idea that Facebook is using poorly written software. While my experience was not as heartbreaking as yours (and you have my sincerest condolences for your loss), can you imagine the experience of opening up Facebook and finding a picture of a beloved family pet (that YOU posted in honor of her passing)surrounded by the same type of glitz which you have described. I was shocked. I am glad that I can achieve some measure of catharsis with this reply to your blog posting.

  110. I am sorry for all of your losses. 2014 wasn’t such a bad year for me (that is reserved for 2011). But, it certainly wasn’t a great year for the human race. In fact, it was a particularly violent and horrible year. I tried to customize my own FB year in review to reflect my feelings. Here’s an edited version from part of my “year.”

    My Year

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  112. thank you for writing this! Every day Facebook reposts and moves yo the top of my feed a booklet full of photos of my husbands 6 month hospitalization surrounded by clip art and a mindless algorithm encourages me to share under the caption “it’s been a great year.” It hurts each time. I have been avoiding facebook as a result.

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  114. I am sorry for your loss and like you, I was very disappointed in my fb “year in review”. I have two daughters, who I always post about. One of my daughters is a professional surfer. So, every time I post a picture of her at a contest, and particularly this year when she won many contests, those posts got a lot of likes. So, when I tried to create my year in review, it just came up with all of her photos, none of my other daughter, or even me! It just looks like a year in review of her life. I didn’t publish it because it’s so lame. I know you can somehow customize it, but, quite frankly, I don’t have the time and was already so turned off:(:(

  115. Pingback ::

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  116. It sounds like he wasn’t concerned with others seeing the post as he was with being surprised by it in its original form. So being able to change it afterwords or hide it from others wouldn’t have helped much in that regard.

  117. Pingback ::

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  118. Hi Eric,
    Most importantly, I’m sorry to hear of your loss. You’re far from alone in being upset by this misguided piece of coding: I was too, in a year in which I lost my mother, lost one of my oldest friends to a cruel disease, lost my main source of income, and was laid low by depression and exhaustion… only to be faced with this ridiculous app just a couple of days before Christmas, choosing images from my year for me and telling me how great it was. The fact that these possibilities never even occurred to Facebook is what staggers me: a social platform that knows nothing about people. It knows the cost of everything, and the value of nothing. My best wishes for a peaceful and happy new year, and once again sorry for your loss.

  119. Pingback :: | Top 10 Facebook Moments in 2014 (Failure As a Human Network)

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  120. Pingback ::

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  121. Eric, I was really struck by the extraordinary grace of your post. Considering the loss you’ve suffered with the passing of your daugther, Rebecca, it would have been understandable, and even expected, for you to lash out angrily at Facebook. And no one would have blamed you for it. Instead, you were forgiving of this inadvertent cruelty, constructive in your criticism of the process that generated it, and you even provided useful solutions for avoiding similiar unintended cruelties in the future. As a parent, myself, I can’t begin to imagine the pain of losing a child–that you have kept your sense of humanity whlle living with that pain marks you as a very special individual.

  122. Its your fault. The review in facebook its optional to see. Nobody forces you to watch it. If it showed to you your dead daughter its because you used that picture like avatar

    [Actually, it wasn’t optional to see. As I perhaps did not make clear enough in the post, I was given an “ad” for Year in Review in my feed, mixed in with posts from people I follow. The only thing I did to see it was go to Facebook and read my timeline. This seems to be a very common misunderstanding, which is why I decided to post the comment and respond to it inline. -EAM]

  123. Never post on a public forum what you NEVER wish to see again. I do not speak without some experience in grief. My baby grandson died this year and his photos in MY YEAR were there as a joyful event. I chose to see it in a different way. His birth was JOYFUL and I did feel happy at the moment and seeing him in my son’s arms brought tears but in the instant the photo was made it was great joy for both of us which I will never be sorry for that precious moment. I chose to publish my year as fb designed it, changing only the caption: ‘memories are both joyful and sad. We had those moments. Aren’t we glad we can’t see our future or we would have been deprived of that moment of joy when the photo was made.
    Choice was ours, we could publish or NOT.

  124. Eric,
    I am very sorry for your loss. And to those telling him how he should deal with this? If you haven’t had his experience, maybe you should shut it. And perhaps even if you have, you should shut it.

    That was very thoughtful advice and well meant.

    All the best.

  125. Pingback ::

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  126. I share your grief: I keep having my Year in Review pop up unbidden, to remind me of my job loss, my mother being forced into crisis care, and the deaths of my eldest brother and my father. Thanks, Facebook– but let’s try to be more sensitive nest time ‘rpund. I am very sorry for your loss.

  127. Pingback ::

    Facebook’s Illuminating Algorithmic Cruelty | Wild Webmink

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  128. Dear Eric,

    My deepest condolences for your loss.

    Feeling ashamed to be a member of the IT space :(.

  129. Why provide this at all? If you must, create a check-box choice with unfilled space, perhaps with a vague title such as ‘highlights of my year’, etc. Let the user define it or ignore it. Also, someone mentioned average age of facebook employees as age 31. Average age of users, however (according to various sources) is rising as younger people are abandoning it in search of more trendy and immediate apps. Taking that into account, older users may be at a point where they are experiencing aging parents and multiple significant losses than younger counterparts. Not to mention entire towns and cities that have undergone significant pain and devastation through crime or weather-related incidents. The whole concept is a BAD IDEA.

  130. Sainath,

    I can’t speak for Eric, but my take on things is that you should be very happy to be a member of the IT space, because you may have the power to look for and change these things. You’re aware now, and may be able to make a difference in every thing you work on. The web constantly becomes a larger part of our daily experiences, when days are good, and when days are very, very hard, and there you’ll be, keeping an eye out for everyone.

  131. I’M sorry you had to go through a crushing experience in the loss of your daughter.I’m not a parent but a father figure to someone special.I’m nobody special but I do know what loss is.People have different ways of grieving but I don’t think think it’s Facebook’s place to automatically do a year in review for its users.Only for people who sign up for it and who can ask for editorial power.I have come to loathe the site in many ways.

    I would like to thank you for being strong enough to write this article.My heartfelt condolences to you and all family and friends.

    much love-

  132. I am thankful to you, Eric, that have brought this problem to the attention of the Facebook team.
    I was really annoyed by the endless stream of “this has been a great year” in my feed – not because of a personal loss but because this in my country this year was one of the lousiest, disgusting and tragic years I’ve ever experienced – with basic civil rights violated, political freedoms destroyed, tyranny gaining strengh, country involved into a senseless war with its neoghbor and getting deeper and deeper into an economic crisis.
    Many people I know and I don’t know wrote in their Facebook entries something like “a great year, are you insane?”
    It really sounds deeply insulting not only for those trying to overcome a personal tragedy – but also for those trying to live through one of the most tragic and shameful years in the post-World-War-II history for their nations – and this is one of the reasons those Facebook codes should be made more thoughtfully.
    A whole country with a huge number of Facebook users can be a non-ideal case, too.
    I am very sorry for your loss and I am grateful for your tact and wisdom in raising this issue publicly. Thank you.

  133. May I express a contrary view? I lost my son this year after a long and arduous battle with cancer. I want to see pictures and be reminded of my son every day; and I had positive feelings, albeit with a tinge of sadness, when my son’s photo popped up in my review. The party graphics didn’t bother me; didn’t even notice them at first, and when I did I didn’t see them as inappropriate, but as reflecting my son’s happy nature. I chose not to share my review; but I was grateful to have the opportunity to see it. It brought him back a little closer.

  134. Sounds difficult .. sorry.

    In my case, one of the first photos FB selected for me was a lynching scene from decades ago. Must have been a photo I posted that got a lot of attention from my social activist friends … but it certainly doesn’t characterize my year in any way :(

  135. I was taken aback by this year end summary so brazenly flaunted by Facebook, as well. I lost my husband at the end of 2013, and this year has been a difficult one for me as I adjust to life without him. The worst part for me was that I tried FIVE times to modify it, changing pictures and captions to make it more upbeat. Facebook would allow me to make the changes, but would not allow me to post the end result. Thus, it would revert back to its original format and insist that I had had a wonderful year. I gave up, but still have to deal with the blurb popping up on my screen periodically. It is presumptuous for social media to assume that everyone had a rollicking good time in 2014.

  136. My picture was of my deceased father; I feel your pain.

  137. I am so sorry for your families loss, Eric.
    My husband and I got the same photo. We lost our identical twin sons earlier this year. Our little boys were too small to post a photo of. We were 16 weeks along with them. So I made, then embroidered a linen blanket with our sons names and two little lions on it, then took a photo of that instead.
    We both got the same photo that we posted about them. Every single time. I kept hiding the year in review app from my timeline. As did my husband.
    It does hurt.
    Be kind to yourself and to each other.
    Kindest regards, Tess & Scott

  138. I had this same problem at the end of 2012 because whatever they were automatically generating for the personal year in review highlighted the status updates that I had posted that got the most responses…most of which were condolences on the death of my husband. It’s definitely jarring and painful. I think it’s wonderful that they have the OPTION for someone to do their own year in review, but it shouldn’t be generated automatically and thrown in your face to share.

  139. My beautiful daughter died in a tragic car accident on 9/1/14; we are in the painful throes of grief. I opened up my FB account a few days ago and I seen the photo we had used in her funeral announcement; a happy smiling 6 yr old with a ring of daisies on her head. We were already full of anxiety about our first Christmas without her and when I seen this, I hid it and screamed and cried for close to an hour. I never mentioned it to my husband. Obviously, who ever dreamt this up, never took into consideration that life has some tragic moments and for right or wrong, they are communicated on our FB acct and then we attempt to move forward, not backward. Someone made a mistake; I get that, please, please next year, just do nothing or better yet, fix all the problems we complain about (privacy and setting issues) and stay out of our personal lives.

  140. Dear Eric:

    Thank you for writing this. My husband committed suicide in February after years of debilitating depression. I have found that concerns/complaints about the “Year in Review” feature have been met with criticisms of the use of Facebook to tell friends and family about personal things. Some of the comments I’ve seen online run along the lines of, “If you share your personal info, you get what you deserve.”

    Such comments smack of ignorance to me, because for most people Facebook is no longer just a simple social media activity. It is the primary means of communication between friends and family, supplanting personal email for important messages, updates, etc. When my husband died, there was no way I could face the horror of dozens of phone calls and having to re-hash the living nightmare over and over again. In my state of shock and despair, it was simply easier to write one extensive update, explaining to our nearest and dearest what had happened, and know that they would have the relevant information. That is not something I could have guaranteed if I had sent individual or group emails, because most people I know only communicate through Facebook now.

    To face the “Year in Review” and then be implicitly criticized for not accepting its arbitrary and cavalier attitude toward people’s lives–and to the failure of programmers to recognize that algorithms are, by definition, arbitrary and cavalier, was insult to injury.

    My condolences on the loss of your lovely girl. My kudos on your ability to stand up, here, for control over where, and how, you think of her and choose to memorialize her.

  141. Eric, I am so sorry, I have no words to express how much. Your sorrow is ours, your tears our own. As you lost your little one, so too did we. Too soon. It’s been almost six years, but still as fresh as a rose in bud. May you find some comfort and mercy.

  142. My ‘great year’ presented me with photos of my partner who passed away 4 years ago. We don’t need reminders like this. To Eric,and Tess & Scott I’m sorry for your loss.

  143. I do know the feeling
    In brief…I lost my 18 year old son to brain cancer this year
    I am constantly reminded by facebook on my phone and on my laptop as they want me to post my wonderful year
    However I do have wonderful memories of my son
    This was a jarring post of fb…I agree
    And the selections…I cannot even put more time into explaining the heartache
    love to you and your family

  144. To me it was the same but with my cat. He died in February.

    Not posted:

  145. This doesn’t compare to your situation, of course.

  146. Dear Eric,
    I sympathize with the shock and pain you felt when you opened your FaceBook page and saw first hand the agony an impartial, unfeeling, technological algorithm can cause without human thought or oversight. My wife suffered for ten years from congestive heart failure, medical ineptitude, and billing greed. She was recognized both by sight and name at several hospital ER and ICU departments due to cardio-pulmonary finger pointing, all at the cost of her slowly, agonizing, physical deterioration.
    One week after moving back to PA my wife physically collapsed, 911 rushed her into the ER where she suffered the first of three cardiac arrests over a six week hospitalization. Her condition progressively worsened because of excessive antibiotic treatments for an ailment she didn’t suffer from. We hoped for her return by Thanksgiving…I still have the Turkey in our freezer.
    She was airlifted to another hospital with advanced Critical Care abilities. Everyday I held her hand, frequently I slept in her room to guarantee that she had an advocate that fought for her. Five and a half weeks she fought against increasingly mounting odds. Exactly on her sixty-second birthday, Dec 17th, my wife stopped fighting, stopped running a daily marathon to survive, and quietly died.
    I related this story because this agony is mine, the mistakes are mine, the second guessing, the feeling of inadequacy, of frustration and fear…these are all mine.
    Well, mine and obviously Facebook’s, for I too had my agonizing year itemized with painful pictures of our last year together. Although not disrespectful, there was no attempt to understand the pain associated with each moment, no due respect given those who mourn her, no celebration of her life. I felt that she was being callously used…and without request or permission, her memory so raw in our minds, was violated.
    I apologize for the length and detail of the post, but it is impossible to say she ‘passed away’ without re-experiencing every detail, so achingly fresh in my son’s and my memory that every detail comes unbidden. Her birthday, one week before Christmas, and one month before our thirty-fifth anniversary has been changed forever…but Facebook has a neat, useless, and pointless feature to flaunt.

    Respectfully, and in Deepest Sympathy, Vlad

  147. My son died this year as well – also from a brain tumor – and I had the same thoughts. I hoped to avoid my own year-in-review (until it unexpectedly popped up on my screen today). As you mention, just seeing others’ reviews was painful enough: “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Oh my gosh. “It’s been a great year!”. What? That phrase alone is so cruelly incongruent with my experience, and so upsetting. No human would ever say that to me.

  148. Dear Eric:

    Unfortunately, I know exactly what it feels like to be a Dad who has lost a daughter. I lost mine to a freak accident when she was 17. I don’t even have anyone to last out against because of it.

    I believe your proposed solutions are absolutely the correct ones. Let the user see that they can build their own “year in review” WITHOUT automatically prototyping a sample. This is indeed a problem that is in Facebook’s “blind spot” and they have no idea how much it is hurting people. If it were a device that was accidentally removing a part of a finger, even in only 1 out of 1000 users, the media and OSHA and/or who-knows whom else would be ALL over it. Because it’s “only” emotional damage, it doesn’t draw as much notice.

    I believe the only way to change this behavior is for our friends and families to push hard — and relentlessly — on a variety of fronts to get Facebook to provide other options. Hopefully, FB’s very ubiquity is also its vulnerability. It’s not like we can find other options. (Particularly not for people like me, whose loved ones originally had Facebook pages, and who joined only to be able to be in contact with friends of that person.)

    I’m not going to sign off in my typical “hope this helps” because I’m not sure it does. I hope it is just more constructive than destructive.

    With care and empathy,
    — john baldwin

  149. 1. One doesn’t get a year in review unless request one. 2. It only includes photos the fb person posted. 3. It can be edited. 4. After seeing it, one doesn’t have to post it.

  150. Pingback ::

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  151. My dad passed away in july-a photo I put up of him and myself as a baby on the dad he passed away (to say goodbye) popped up in “my year” last week – surrounded by cartoonish celebratory reams of confetti. Was a heartbreaking slap in the face on so many levels….I truly share your dismay and pain.

  152. I too was upset by It was a great year’. I tried to delete that part only to see it come up on my Year in Review. Yes, I had a beautiful picture of my beloved 6 year old grandson at the top of the review but he and his father died 18 months prior when a freak wave took them and I placed comments on facebook at the 12 month anniversary. I would never, ever have made the Year in Review if I knew It was a great year was going to appear.

  153. So sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine what that must be life, being the parent of two daughters.

    While my year was nowhere near so difficult, I had a pretty tough one, one I’m glad is heading for the rearview mirror. As someone in the software industry, I concur with your analysis. A simple “would you like this?” seems awfully easy to implement.

  154. Yes I agree with Eric I lost my dad and My best friends mom on the same day 20mins apart and NO this was NOT a good year for me and to be reminded of it when I didnt want to be was cruel and I put in the line instead of it being a great year “Its Been a Year” but technically its been 3 months for me and I still dont want to be reminded of it so THANX FB for making me relive it!!!

  155. Eric, first off, Please accept my condolences. Secondly, you raise so many points. I fear that many of the commenters fail to see the point. I don’t even question the algorithm–I question the whole concept. What’s the point? Facebook already has us hooked in so why offer these ostensibly free services? I suspect it is the general logic that by participating in Facebook then one must be ridiculously self-centered. Why wouldn’t we want to laud our awesome lives? It is this reality that has continually disenchanted me with Facebook. While I generally it to kwep up with others sometimes it is just so overwhelming to be barraged by my “friends” and their apparent awesomeness. I’m obviously not irritated by this to completely remove myself from Facebook. It passes the time. It can be a method of support when you need it. Case in point, I foster cats and kittens. I lost my first kitten a couple months ago. The outpouring of love and support helped me so much. But like you, it was the picture of this courageous little kitten that was the highlight of my year. Having Facebook prompt me about my awesome year by showcasing the low point was just awful. I prompted dismissed it and reported it as something that I didn’t want to see. Of course Facebook asked me a half dozen questions about why I didn’t want to see it. “It shouldn’t be forced upon me” wasn’t one of the options. It pretty much ruined my Christmas Eve. Lord help me had this app been in existence two years ago when I lost my grandfather. Forcing grief upon us is just a horrible thing. As you say, we certainly do not go looking for it. I’m happy that your blog post prompted an apology from Facebook. They need to think twice before foisting their services upon an unsuspecting public.

  156. Hi Eric,
    As i read your blog and down through these comments i understand from my own perspective where you are all coming from too, i am sorry for your loss, and to everyone else here who also lost someone.
    My son (17) died in January and for the last few days, i too saw many friends share this app post of their year and i didn’t even feel compelled looking at them much less creating one of my own, because like many here my year wasn’t so great, sure there were moments but nothing that alleviates the loss.
    So then yesterday i found the same thing in my feed prompting me to review and share it, with a photo of my son with younger siblings, and then several more entries about him and the events. Although it gave me the option to edit what posts were selected i was not interested and tried to delete/opt out but found no such option other than to leave it on ‘Me only” privacy.
    If that was the end of it, fine, but each time i log on on my phone or computer, there it pops up almost immediately in my feed. While i have no issue with the app itself i kind of prefer to opt in to things, not out of, particularly when it wants to remind me of things i can’t forget anyway.
    Regards, Lee

  157. Pingback ::

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  158. Eric,

    Your comments about Facebook were far more kind than I imagine mine might have been in a similar situation.

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I hope that the many kind comments here provide some comfort to you and your family.


  159. Facebook is such a wonderful App , i ever never seen any other app like Facebook.. i memorized this year once more after seeing the Facebook your year review of mine. for some persons this year is not good for some other persons this year may given good in all the things . Whatever it is this is a Life . we cannot expect when thing will happen good and when things will happen bad. whenever you remember good things you will feel happy whenever you remember sad things you will feel sad..

    I Hope coming year will be good for all and thanks to Facebook for posting review of your year.

    Memorable Moments + Sad Moments = LIFE

  160. Tragic…then unfair and cruel and back to reliving tragic…so sorry for you man. Stay strong you’re a light to many of us who have counted on you for technical guidance, and now inspiration.

  161. Thanks for writing this. It has struck a chord with many people, myself included. I chose to post my own YIR with the comment that it was in fact a terrible year for me. The pictures shown highlighted my dad’s hospitalization and deterioration with dementia, a burglary at my home that resulted in the loss of many irreplaceable items as well as jewelry and electronics, and the funeral and burial of my only brother. For me it was not the pain of being reminded of my losses, because I’m thinking of those losses a lot anyway over the holiday season. What got to me was the default claim that it’s been a great year. That was the inadvertent cruelty, endlessly repeated on other people’s posts, including ones from people who also had bad years. Many people find comfort in sharing bad news over Facebook, so criticizing people for leaving up pictures of their dead relatives, as some of your commenters, have done, is unhelpful. Automated Year in Review posts can be fun, or even cathartic. But they need to be designed in a way that is more sensitive to situations like ours.

  162. “Thanks, brain — for the memories of a bad year. It’s all the fault of my grey matter and the synapsis firing that I have the image of dead loved one in my memory.”

    Grieve the loss of your loved ones — but, don’t make it someone else’s fault that the memory is painful. Don’t turn it into a public display about how a public display is painful. That’s defeating what you’re saying it’s all about (that being your private grief).

    If not Facebook, then the picture in the hallway. The memories when you see your loved one’s friends, their effects, the empty place at the table. Facebook is not responsible for your life or your feelings. That said, could Facebook have done a better job of designing the app? Possibly: But, that doesn’t change that it’s your strength that carries you through — not what anyone does or doesn’t do.

  163. I entirely share your sentiments. In fact, quite unaware of your blogpost, I had written one on my blog arguing Why this was a very bad year. There is some solace in the fact that FB apologized. A link to the piece I wrote….

  164. First thing:
    1. Sorry for your loss

    2. Why would you upload such Sad Moment Photos to Facebook IF YOU dont want to look them back?

    3. If Images contain person who is dead you can simply delete it to avoid seeing it again and again before new services will show up on your wall to review your photo

    4. Facebook offers amazing genius algorithm THAT require USERS COMMON SENSE. You should review FB user privacy before using facebook


    I am sorry to offend other but this is my opinion to those people who complain blame facebook

  165. “Year in Review” painful in Colorado. Both my mom and sister died this past year…and it was not a year I wanted reviewed with balloons, confetti and photos. Thank you Eric…for taking the time to point out the problems with this intrusion for so many of us. I hope it will be changed so at the very least…those of us that do NOT want a review – can opt out immediately.

  166. I understand you, I lost my nephew and my father this year and facebook did the same thing with them as it has done to you with your daughter.

    it makes me wish for the old facebook before all these apps and features when it was all about the socialising.

  167. Pingback ::

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  168. I too lost my precious daughter Steph this year, and of course I’ve been sad like everyone who loses someone so close.
    However, over Christmas spent with one of her sisters and her closest niece, I have been reminded of all the joy and happiness that she brought to our lives in her short 36 years.
    So be sad but happy too!

  169. I’m very sorry to read about your loss. I had a similar experience with this app. I quickly flipped through mine after seeing it pop up a million times. It included a photo of my brother in law who died in a horrific car accident in April. The stress triggered an existing medical condition and caused my husband to go into the ER once a week for about a month. We had some good times this year and things to be happy about but overall it’s been one of the worst and I’m ready to move on.

  170. I felt this too, as I looked back at my year, the worst of my life. We lost our third daughter in stillbirth. One of the collages was of our pregnancy announcement, featuring us telling our older daughters, a family picture of a pregnant me with my family and our due date, and a picture of the special “big sister” shirts we had purchased for all three girls. The title of that collage? “Remembering Charlotte {Previously titled Waiting For Baby part III}”

    Unintentionally cruel.

  171. Pingback ::

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  174. Eric,

    I am sorry for your pain. I too had a year I did not wish to review. My solution was to use their algorithm against them. I reported the post as spam and it never appeared again. Your words have brought to light an important issue. Thank you for the courage it took to write about something which is quite painful for you.



  175. I also lost a loved one, and I get it can be painful to relive those moments. However please be strong and embrace the joy she brought in your life. Although Facebook’s intentions were not to drudge up that pain, if anything it should be a great reminder to remember those 6 years you did have. Your daughter would not want you to forget her, but to be strong and move on, without always feeling pain the moment you see her. Remember all the joy she brought you, all the smiles, and the fact she is no longer in pain and watching over you.

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    Mein Jahr 2014 auf Facebook

    Facebook hat sich wieder mal etwas einfallen lassen. Ein Algorithmus wählt ein paar Fotos aus den eigenen Alben bzw. mit meinem Namen getaggte Fotos anderer und macht daraus einen persönlichen Jahresüberblick. Eingeleitet wird das mit dem Satz Es war

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  178. Carolyn,

    Thank you.

  179. I hear you. I had cancer this year and the first photo that popped up is the one of me on the couch after surgery.

    I ended up using the thing to talk about how I can’t wait to see 2014 go away and thank folks for their support throughout the year. But I’m with you, it felt odd and frustratingly difficult to alter and in the end, unnecessary.

    My deep condolences on your loss.

  180. Eric, I can relate to the pain that this must have caused you, as I too lost my 23-year-old daughter (car accident) during 2014. I have purposefully avoided even looking at the year in review that FB has created for me, as I know that it would likely include photos of Lilly. Several of her friends have posted theirs and she shows up in the cover photo for several of them. My girlfriend looked at hers without posting and it and lo and behold, most of the review focused on posts and photos of my daughter. I find it to be both presumptuous and ridiculous that Facebook programmers believe that they can create an algorithm that will create a review that is better than one I can create for myself. The comment from the FB staffer that says “We can do better,” displays a shocking level arrogance. His response should have been, “We screwed up.” It would be nice if they created a template that users could customize and create their own stories, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone else try to tell my story.

    You have my deepest sympathies with a heartfelt understanding of what you have been through and will continue to go through going forward.

  181. The defensiveness a few (only a few) people have expressed around this issue is peculiar to me. It doesn’t matter if the team at Facebook was completely homogenous or not, or if any of them had ever suffered a loss or not; it is, however, evident from the fact that this post even *exists* that if anyone on the design team did hold a dissenting view about the Year In Review for reasons of empathy, it was not taken into account. We don’t know why that is.

    It would not make Facebook worse (for instance) to add a few more options to accommodate for the mood or the sensitivity of a post. Allowing choice and flexibility, and considering the potential in a user’s life for crisis or disaster is not uncool or untrendy or frivolous. I don’t know why we aren’t universally seeing this as *necessary*.

    I have not posted here before because I have never known what to say, but Eric, you are awesome, both in the strength and honesty and love with which you’ve written about Rebecca and the rest of your family, and the direction it’s inspired you to take your work. I am so sorry for your loss, and for everyone else in this post who has expressed similar experiences.

  182. I guess they could have had code look for comments like “so sorry” and other comments like that.

  183. I am saddened by your loss. I don’t know that I fully agree with you but do understand. I was quite heartened to see your comment not blaming FB – you are right, they couldn’t know every single reaction. They tried to do something positive. However, the app does allow for editing both pictures and comments – that wasn’t clear in your piece. Many think that the feature doesn’t allow that option when it does. Again, your loss is deep and unimaginable, and there are no words that can offer any solace.

  184. Eric, thank you for writing this. I’m sorry for your loss and can relate to your pain. I lost my boyfriend of 7 years in a fatal car accident a few months ago. Recently, I got the same slap in the face from Facebook : my YIR featured a smiling picture of the man I wanted to spend my whole life with. I hid it from my timeline and tried to go about my day like I have every day. I thought about how this embodies our culture, particularly when it comes to social media – there’s no room for grief, aging, or illness, only for showing off a facade of endless parties and successes. There’s no room for compassion or tact when there’s so much money to be made off of our society’s addiction to feel-good, sugar-coated depictions of life.

  185. I posted a status update a few days ago about how I was hiding from the year in review thing on Facebook, and one of my friends told me I wasn’t the only one, leaving me this link in the comments. I’m so sorry for your loss, and I’m sorry for everyone who experienced loss this year. I’ve just had the worst year of my life so far, with crises and challenges and trials I’d rather not talk about, mostly because they don’t belong to me alone, but also to my family. It’s been a year filled with stress, with heartbreak, and with loss. It’s been a year that has been dehumanising at best, and has left me reeling. I’m weary to my bones, and barely holding on, and this is the year Facebook would like me to review.

    I’ve already been through it once; why on earth would I want to go through it again?

    Facebook has been losing the plot for a while with its algorithms and its highhandedness with deciding what we get to see in our feeds and what we don’t, but to me, this particular act of thoughtless cruelty absolutely takes the cake. I think the problem is that Facebook thinks it is now indispensable, and that we will always cling to it, but MySpace thought the same thing once too.

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  191. came here because of the NPR link. I completely agree. I lost my mom at the beginning of the year and the cover photo it keeps picking is the one of me and my niece after her funeral. I’m already trying to deal with the 1st Christmas, the 1 year anniversary and to have it keep popping up with no way to turn it off (and I kept looking for a hide button so I think they neglected to add it to the mobile app). Your post was beautifully written. Thank you for writing it.

  192. Pingback ::

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  193. I truly admire your measured response to this application on Facebook. There is nothing I can say about your loss and how terrible it would be to be reminded of it unexpectedly. I do hope this causes people to think about the consequences of automatically doing something with people’s information. It would be so simple to just ask if someone wanted to see their year, to just ask.

    I wish you all the best in the new year.

  194. I am conflicted by your post. I understand the year in review on FB was an unwanted trigger, but have to wonder how you would have felt if your daughter hadn’t shown up in a review of your year.

    I mention it, because I lost my brother last month and the post I put on FB about that event didn’t show up in my review. It bothered me, as I thought it was a monumental event in my year, (along with the birth of my second Grandson in February, which did show up in the review). To give a complete picture of the year it needs to include the ups and downs. I didn’t share that review, because it wasn’t complete in my eyes.

    Where I would put some fault at Facebook’s door is in the presentation of the year. Life isn’t always positive and we share life events on FB that may require something other than the balloons and confetti approach. Their algorithm should be able to sort out what is positive and what’s negative based on keywords and take a different approach depending on what they find. It’s not that hard.

  195. First of all, my deepest condolences on the loss of your daughter. She was beautiful! I, too, lost a child though not this year. There is no worse pain…none! I was shocked to see my deceased husband’s face under “It Was a Great Year”. My husband died of cancer a year after diagnosis, on October 2, 2014. Most of my time was spent in the hospital/nursing home with him. As if that wasn’t enough to bear, my 31 year old nephew was killed March 1st in a car accident while coming home from skiing. Then on November 20th, my cousin’s son was killed in a fire. No, I would NOT want to review this year nor would I classify it “GREAT” by any means. Thank you for working for change. The option to do this would have been nice. I notice that if I look at someone else’s, FB immediately generates another one for me. I delete it but I can’t look at anybody else’s because mine gets re-generated over and over again. I hope FB gets better at this and starts treating people like human beings by giving them the option to make one or not make one. Thanks for bringing this to their attention! Anita

  196. Eric, I don’t usually send virtual hugs to strangers, but without going into detail, I feel your pain. Your story, and the others here are overwhelming.

    I saw FB’s apology, then yours, and you are truly a good man. I hope you find some peace in the memories of your daughter.

  197. Eric – I definitely feel you. Losing my mother this year was terrible enough but to be forced to see everyone’s joyous years in comparison with my own was heart wrenching and cruel. But you’re right. Who can blame an algorithm? *sigh* Hoping 2015 is better to you. ❤️

  198. How ironic that a social personal site can be so impersonal. So sorry.

  199. Eric,is the FB YIR any worse than walking past your daughter’s bedroom door?

  200. I also have a problem with this thing that popped up! I first saw others “years” before mine showed up. I thought it was a nice “app” for them but not me. Having lost my fiancée in July and then my son last month it was wrong on every level. It should not have been an automatic thing I had to deal with whether I liked it or not. Facebook you blew it!!

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  204. Eric,

    I don’t know you, but we don’t have to know each other to feel someone else’s pain. I am so sorry for your loss and that you had to re-live it again when you saw Rebecca’s face on the internet.

    I know it isn’t much, but I felt compelled to write and tell you how bad I felt for you when I read this article. I have lost both of my parents, and several friends when I was younger (some of them to suicide), and my heart still aches. I also lost my mother in law this year, and it was a terrible way for her to die. It still tears me apart because she was such a good peroson. I know that doesn’t have anything to do with her death, but I just wish she didn’t suffer like she did.

    We all believe differently, and I try to believe that we will see each other again one day. I hope I’m right. I don’t know if that’s any comfort to you, but I hope it helps a little.

  205. Pingback ::

    URLs of wisdom (28th December) | Social in silico

    […] Inadvertent algorithmic cruelty – Facebook’s 2014 summary hasn’t been a welcome suggestion for all users. “It may not be possible to reliably pre-detect whether a person wants to see their year in review, but it’s not at all hard to ask politely—empathetically—if it’s something they want.  That’s an easily-solvable problem.  Had the app been designed with worst-case scenarios in mind, it probably would have been.”  And the follow-up post, by the same author: “…they have fallen prey to…a failure to anticipate how a design decision that really worked in one way completely failed in another, and work to handle both cases.” […]

  206. Facebook did the same thing to our family by posting a picture of our family at the grave side of our daughter, Maria, who died 7 years ago and saying this was our year. I would rather not have this be one of our hightlights as visiting the grave side of a son or daughter is one of those moments no parent wishes on anyone. A little sensitivity on the Facebook staff would be apprecialted.

  207. I am sorry for your loss.

    It is possible to cancel the “year in review” “feature”. It wasn’t easy, I had to click the ‘v’ symbol and “hide this post” and the followup, “I don’t want to see this” several times before the it was removed from my timeline.

    So, no year in review for me.

  208. My sympathies to all those who posted. Facebook ignored all my posts about the many protests my husband an I participated in, and only showed our lovely and growing family. That’s political censorship, and I didn’t edit, but I’ll know better for next time.

  209. I understand your pain. My sweet girl left her earthly home in 2013. One of the big shots from my year was her memorial 5k. I am so sorry for your loss.

  210. The loss of a loved one is a burden none of us wish to bear, the loss of our own child is perhaps the cruellest burden to bear. My heart goes out to you and your family Eric and I have shared your story with others as I felt it was important for us to be reminded that not every app is the best thing since sliced bread. I although not suffering loss as painful as yours chose not to make use of this Facebook app. I didn’t see the point of sharing the past when I had worked so hard through the year to free myself from the past. Thank you for taking the time to express is words what I am sure so many others are feeling.

  211. She is beautiful. Condolences to you.

  212. I had the same experience. 2014 marked the 10th year of life without my daughter Katie. I posted her picture on the anniversary of her passing. It was the featured photo for my FB celebratory ‘year in review.’ It was a pang in my heart when I saw it–very disturbing. Another reminder of how FB intrudes into our private space. Another reminder of why I have all but quit using FB.

  213. I wanted to take a moment to extend my condolences to you on the death of your daughter. The sadness and grief you feel is likely beyond anything I can imagine. I hope that you allow yourself the time and space needed to mourn this terrible loss.

    Thank you for writing about the Facebook Year in Review. I agree, that FB does not take into account that everyone does not want to relive the previous year. In my case, I experienced a very difficult year, not through death of a loved one, but in one of the other ways you indicated. During this past year, I have had to rethink, revise, and revisit everything I used to think about myself. Most of the time has been painful and, I am continuing to work hard to rebuild a new life. I would be delighted if Facebook just simply stopped deploying the YIR feature altogether. It would be a blessing.

  214. Wow, so clearly there is no critical thinking process. You have a party, celebration in May for which you post pics but a tragedy in Sep for which you do not. FB has the bright idea of summarizing the whole year without the input of the creators of the content.

    FB has always acted like they know best and never do. It could have been a great app but sadly is a brainless hobby for 20 somethings.

    I’m not surprised for those “who would never have thought of that” because thinking about impact on others is not part of their process. Only the “cool idea”. It’s why Uber is what it is, same mindset. Why FB reworks security and defaults all settings so everyone sees everything. Why it’s suggesting the poster above ‘friend’ his ex’s new man.

    Having an “empathy committee” is sad because that actually should be a no-brainer.

    Very sorry you and others are at the mercy of FB and others lacking simple common sense, opening wounds in the name of a cool idea.

  215. A quick note for those of you who are getting e-mail notifications about new comments: there is a followup to this post that clarifies my original intent, among other things.

  216. Eric, thank you for writing this. I’m sorry for your loss and can relate to your pain.

  217. I’m not sure that I follow this. You were upset that Facebook chose this picture in your year in review. But instead of closing the feature and not posting it, you turned it into a subject to blog about. Now that photo is everywhere, and you and the world are discussing it day in and day out. Did you really intend to take what should have been a minor offense and blow it up to such proportions?

    Perhaps there are painful parts of our lives that shouldn’t become fodder for gawking and gossip the world over.

  218. Eric,

    I wanted to thank you for writing this. I, too, had similar feelings when I saw my ‘great year in review’ as I lost my mother unexpectedly in November to brain cancer. Not only was I dealing with the fact that we had only found the cancer in September, but also with how soon her death came after diagnoses. I didn’t need to be reminded of these things. As a mother, I cannot fathom the pain you’re going through but if it’s a fraction of what I feel thinking about something happening to my children, I cannot be more sorry and offer my prayers to your family. I pray my mother is looking after your daughter in heaven until we can see them again. Again, so sorry for your loss.

  219. I had a similar experience. I lost my wife of 31 years (we were sweethearts since age 13) November 23. Imagine how I felt when I open facebook and the cover photo in my great year in review is my wife’s urn. The last photos before the had a great year footer were some of the last photos taken of my wife before she died. Yes my wife’s painful death from ovarian cancer was part of my year but to have it thrust in my face out of the blue as though it was the icing on a great year was painful. Facebook approached the project without regard to those who had very painful year the same as if General Mills decided that since most people are not allergic to nuts they would just go a head and add ground peanuts to all of their food products and say sorry to those who are injured in the process. They could at least have made it an opt in type of thing rather than just shove my pain back in my face without warning.

  220. I understand your heartbreak, we lost a family member to suicide not more than two months ago. To see his picture scroll across my Facebook screen was a punch in the gut and opened wounds trying to heal.

    Thank you for your post as it speaks volumes for so many broken hearts. My condolences to you and your family on the loss of your angel.

  221. Eric I am so very sorry for your loss and well keep you and your family in my prayers. From one parent to another I know exactly what your going through. Last year my life was shattered when my son was murdered (8-25-13). There’s not a day that goes by that I do not miss him and many days still (when I’m having “a moment”) that I cry. Last year when the “Year End” video from Facebook was offered I clicked on it and FOR ME it was wonderful. My son, Dean, was featured in it and I cried while watching it but it showed me allot of “memories” of his life that I cherish. So, yes, FB can make some changes in this area (as I’m sure they well) and I’m sorry it was a bad experience for you.. but from ME..I want to say Thank You Facebook for the MEMORIES.

  222. @Rick

    No, you’re not following Eric’s point. The end of year review shows up in your newsfeed regardless of whether you want it to or not. Also, it wasn’t his intent to make it a “blown up issue”. Please have some more courtesy.

  223. I am so sorry for your loss Eric. As the father of a 8 years old daughter myself… my thoughts are with you and your family

  224. I keep getting “poked” by a friend who passed away 3 years ago, after going missing for a year.

  225. Perhaps we should be wondering why it is that Facebook even wants to be able to summarize or characterize “what kind of year” each user had. An algorithm that was more accurate and “sensitive” and avoided the terrible kind of mistake we’ve seen here, is arguably more frightening than the clumsy one they have now.

  226. Thanks for writing about your unfortunate experience, no words can bring comfort.

    Not that it makes you feel any better, you are not alone that are subjected to FB non-empathetic algorithm choices. I lost a nephew in bijarre road accident that happened outside US. The media caught the pics. of the scene, which some how made their way to his friends who decided to post on FB. I have asked FB numerous times, but all I got was an autobot answer saying “that they do not violate some 22yr old 100K paid algo bullshit” .. All these tools start fun, but soon they become evil.

  227. Dear Eric,

    There must be a lot of messages for you to read here thus I am not sure if you will ever get to read this. Well if you ever do I just want you to know that you are in my thoughts and accept my deep felt condolences even though we can never ever feel your pain as much as you do. One of my siblings is battling with cancer at the moment and and not just that, he lost his wife to brain cancer 10 years ago. So I have a SLIGHT idea of your pain though definitely not the complete measure. Normally, people speak words of consolation but I do not have any because I know that words of consolation will not bring your daughter back.
    Thus, the only wish I am sending you is that you heal SOMEDAY!..that the pain like a KNOT will loosen someday and you will be able to breathe freely again!

  228. Came to this blog from Slate which picked up your article about Facebook. What a beautiful little girl, Rebecca. I am so sorry for your loss. I read your article because when that Facebook year in review app finally hit my screen, I thought that was glad I had sanitized my entries for the year– as 2014 was actually rough year, but all things are relative. My kids are around the same age as yours, and they are okay, so that really makes for a fine year all things considered. There was a little boy in my town, Ben Sauer, whose mother also kept a blog in 2014 as he experienced a fatal brain tumor. He died shortly after his fifth birthday in May. So, reading these essays of brought back sharp memories of him and his family’s story. Your family sounds just wonderful, you are wonderful good people and a whole world of perfect strangers will now see that photo of your lovely, lively daughter and celebrate her life and grieve with you in your loss.

  229. Eric, I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost my mother this year to a long battle with ovarian cancer. Seeing the photo of us two in my “Year in Review” brought me to tears. It was the sh*ttiest year of my life and I’m sure for your family also. I hope you find comfort in knowing that your little girl isn’t suffering anymore. Peace and strength.

  230. I lost my perfect, sweet, amazing one year old little boy on November 14th of this year. I too was bombarded with this poor choice and it caused me great mental anguish. I’m sincerely disappointed in the thoughtlessness of the Facebook team. It completely broke my heart all over again to see his sweet little face. I feel your pain. All too well.

  231. I think this stems from the guy who designed this Year-In-Review algorithm to assume that Facebook “Likes” are always meant to be positive. Many times, people “like” a post about a death, getting cancer, or other tragic post simply because Facebook provides no other option. People may not want to leave a comment, but still want to acknowledge to the poster that they saw and read their post.

    If Facebook were to add an option for people to, instead of clicking “Like” on a post, to click something instead, like “I’m sorry”, or “Dislike”, then maybe the guy that wrote this algorithm could better filter out the things that people don’t want to necessarily be reminded of.

  232. Yeah, I got a picture of my mother’s tombstone myself.

  233. I’m sorry for your lost. But I don’t agree with blaming facebook for showing the memories of your daughter. I know it’s painful now that she’s gone, but it’s a beautiful thing to know that you were chosen to be her parent for the short time she was with you. Your daughters memories will be in the hands of everyone you know, every place you been and every dream you see. Are you going to blame your family or friends that have pictures of your daughter because you showed up to their house and you see her picture? Have you thrown away every picture of your daughter and everything your daughter touched out of your house? If you answer no to this question, then you are also to blame for the hurt you feel every time you wake up and see that cup your daughter drank out of or for using that faucet your daughter washed her hands in. Those are the same type of memories that you encounter everyday just as facebook had given you the same type of memories, but then you want to blame facebook for something that most of us enjoy (I to lost a child and I know the pain your going through but I don’t put her memories in a closet and close the door. You should be smiling at the memories facebook gave you along with the tears. May she rest in peace….

  234. I had the same kind of thing happen, the picture of my 3 year old nephew who died in October after a 2 year battle with Neuroblastoma was the cover of my “year in review”. My first reaction was, “WTF? Why is this on here, and why was this photo chosen?” Followed by, F*cking Facebook… how dare they post things like this, when they have no idea what your pictures and post are about on a personal level, especially when your year was filled with sorrow and agony you do not want to relive. I found it highly insulting. When I first heard about Facebook doing this, my first thought was, how do I opt out? Like you, Eric, I didn’t like not having a choice in the matter. Thank you for standing up to these idiots and letting them know that a line needs to be drawn as far as invading people’s privacy and delving into their personal lives. THANK YOU!

  235. Eric,

    My deepest sympathy to you and your family for what I am sure has been an emotionally draining year, needless to say the rehashing of memories that were so greatly cherish but yet so heart breakingly devastating. Regardless of what you feel about Facebook and what their coding came up with or not, I can understand the hurt/harm it may have caused to wounds that were barely beginning to heal.

    My only suggestion to you is…keep your chin up, eyes looking forward in life, hug those you hold the most dear every chance you get and ignore those things that dredge up the present past.

    While I do not know you aside from just reading a news article, the look in her eyes and the feelings you shared with us speak volumes about the man you are and the girl you raised her to be. While this is by no means solace for such a heavy heart, it is something to remember…that you loved her beyond compare and she clearly lived a life bathed in that love.

    Be strong! Remember the past for all it was.

  236. I Started crying when I saw “My year in Review” with my mom’s photograph as the main portrait. I felt like I was the only one. Everyone was posting their automated feed on how their year was great, and I’m still grieving the loss of my mother who passed away in September. I GUess someone who had a great year and didn’t suffer the loss of a loved one, doesn’t really understand. As for myself…I know life is supposed to go on and all that…but it’s hard not to fee bitter and sad to see that on my feed. I miss my mom.

  237. I’m so sorry for your loss. My 23 month old son is currently battling a pineoblastoma at CHOP. I also avoided my “year in review” for the same reason. It wasn’t a great year but there it was right in my face pushing pictures that I wasn’t ready to see again yet. I know they didn’t mean harm, but it hurt. Bless you and your family.

  238. Ah, Eric– so sorry. I came here specifically to leave this message. No one deserves this– not you, not her, not everyone in the radiating circle of misery. Hugs from a stranger, man.
    Mike C

  239. So Sorry for your loss! All I can say

  240. OMG! That is awful. =( =( I’m so sorry. <3 <3

  241. My sincerest condolences for your loss, Eric, and T H A N K Y O U for posting this to blog!! When I was suddenly surprised with my own ‘Year in Review’, I was distraught, and spent the weekend in tears (I thought it was heartless and cruel, and also thought everyone could see it)! Not only did I suddenly, and unexpectedly lose my own mother, but my maternal grandmother as well, six weeks later. Photos of both, and of my mother’s new gravestone were highlighted … The entire year has been fraught with excruciating sorrows, and hardships, and has felt like being buried in an avalanche of sadness, with only a demitasse spoon with which to dig myself out! I too, was enraged at Facebook for highlighting the moments of [and trying to put a cheery spin on] the most heartbreaking year of my entire life. THANK YOU for raising your voice for those of us who reject some of the offensive practices with which facebook chooses to surprise us! My sincerest appreciation. May God richly bless you with comfort, strength, and a peaceful, safe, and prosperous 2015!

  242. My condolences on your loss. Mine also popped up with pictures of my son who passed in February. I have not shared my “year in review” on my page as it has not been a great one for the most part. I understand your frustration.

  243. Hey Eric,

    I read about your cruel story with Facebooks’ Year in Review here:

    I also had a cruel, cruel 2014. So my friend, Keep smiling and all the best!

  244. I’m sorry that you and so many other people had to go through this. It’s incredibly insensitive to say the least, and nobody should have to go through pain like yours at the hands of a mindless algorithm.

    On one hand, business is entralled with ‘big-data’ which seemingly takes out much of the subjective decision making. Instead of making moral or ethical value calls, these execs are able to point at the results attained by highly-complex algorithms and absolve themselves of responsibility for their actions. In cases like this however, that human element NEEDS to exist; otherwise, people get hurt.

    For a corporation as wealthy and powerful as Facebook to do this borders on neglect. In the first year of a computer science program, students are taught the importance of coding around ‘corner-cases’. The cases like yours which deserve special treatement to avoid inappropriate or inaccurate results from the code. To not design your program to take into account these cases is mean, hurtful, lazy, and cheap. The project managers behind this should be ashamed!

  245. Please accept my virtual hug and condolences. I have resisted seeing my year in review for the exact reason! Thank you for writing about it. You have helped me see I am not alone.

  246. This may have been said, but the numbers of active users combined with habitual edge case thinking advocates for more critical thinking. 1-5% of users is huge in facebook numbers and a low percentage is not an excuse to not address large numbers of users using a product designed to emote. Human experiences like death, divorce, and more as a combined negative emotion cohort make up a large percent. Facebook tells me about my deceased mother’s birthday which triggers sadness. It doesn’t know she’s dead. Inactivity is an opaque measure for FB I’m sure.

  247. When first reading your story it felt surreal that another felt exactly as I did. I had not intention to comment until I read through the replies. Things like “think positive or Why not just change it” comments may even be more disturbing then the algorithm itself. The very fact they can write those words are so deeply disappointing. Not knowing how you struggle everyday to think positive and how you were forced to change into a person you don’t want to be . They do not know the emotional roller coaster that goes through your heart everytime her name is spoken. I wish you and her mother hope, peace of mind, toughness and joy in the little things. All things that may seem out of reach right now.

  248. Dear Eric,

    I have a deep sympathy and real empathy for what you shared about what you have coined “Facebook’s inadvertent algorithmic cruelty”. We too lost a child this year and it was a photo of his tiny hand in my wife’s that made the cover of my “Year in Review”.

    I guess I had a slightly different reaction when I saw it. Yes, it deeply affected me because (as you know) losing a child is such a visceral and extremely painful experience (we were not meant to outlive our children), but I looked at it through the lens of my faith and the growth in my faith that I’ve experienced as a result of losing our son Noah. My intention in re-sharing it was one of reflection and introspection and especially of checking in with the community that held me and my family up so very high and rallied around us during the deepest and lowest valley we’ve ever walked through.

    I also want to tell you personally that even though you don’t really know me, I’ve been identifying with you through our shared career field for almost 15 years through your CSS Discuss list and other notable works/conferences (here’s a pic of us at AEA San Fran 08: And now, unfortunately I identify with you through the excruciating experience of losing a child (here’s my blog post about our experience:

    I guess to sum up this comment, even though we have shared experiences in life, we are all different and are affected differently by the same things. What you shared is a true, heartfelt emotion that is obviously resounding with many and affecting change and I applaud you for this and all the other positive ways your painful experience will affect your canon of work both now and in the future.

    Just want to encourage you and share with you how big an impact you’ve made on my life (and no doubt countless others). One example: At AEA Atlanta in 2013, we shared an elevator ride down to the conference on Day 1. You were so warm and friendly. With my delayed flight, I didn’t get into Atlanta until 4a. Three hours later I was trying to figure out where I was and where I was going. You warmly invited me to walk with you and showed me where to go all the while genuinely engaging me in conversation. You are a good man and please know that you and your family are in my prayers.

    Here’s to a happier New Year and that time will help dull the pain…it can never truly heal it.

  249. I lost my daughter 3.5 years ago. I, too, got a “Year in Review.” But I was so excited to see her face and most of the posts that FB chose were ones that were very meaningful for us. Like her birthday post I put on FB. But the coolest thing to me is that her friends’ also had her picture as their main picture on their own “Year in Review.” Losing a child is the hardest thing that we can go through. I know how much those reminders hurt. In particular, the unintended ones. But know that it will get softer, easier even. If even only a bit. So take heart in knowing that if FB doesn’t forget her, neither will you.

  250. I am sorry Eric. I too was crudely reminded of my dads passing this may, there were not only 1 but 2 pictures of him in my year in review.. the same one to be exact. It took me back to some very heart breaking memories. I don’t see why facebook even bothered to do this for us. I hope you find peace and happiness some how. Thank you for having a voice for all of us in the healing stages.

  251. Thanks for this article Eric.

    Add me to the other commenters who lost a loved one in 2014, I lost my Dad in April.

    This “Year in Review” popped up multiple times for me to see, with a photo of me and my Dad together….with bad graphics of balloons and people dancing around us. I think that juxtaposition bothered me as much as anything. And I am sure the same was true for others.

    Great design requires empathy. Algorithms don’t have empathy, unless a human writes them to behave with empathy. Facebook could do better, but understandably, they have little incentive to do so.

  252. I suffered a traumatic experience when I last my fiance in October..

    So you can imagine how ‘great’ I felt when there was a picture of myself and my fiance standing side by side, smiling, with the words “Here’s what your year looks like”

    This is Facebook doing it’s usual “they will be fine with it” approach with all of its products.

  253. The exact same thing happened to me: from my dautghter’s death this year to this “year in review” featuring the last picture of her. I never cried so hard for someone’s tactlesseness. It makes me feel like I’m the only sad woman in the world that don’t want to celebrate what happened this year. Thank you so much for this post, you wrote what I was not able to write (not only in a proper english but also with all the solutions you thought about)

  254. Hi Eric, I agree with you, so many automatic systems do this sort of thing. My FB year was full of photos of me and my ex girlfriend and a family I no longer see, not by any means anything like the kind of reminder you had but I do think sensitivity should be on code writers bosses minds.

  255. The day this launched, my friend posted a screenshot of his promptly…it was of someone who had died in 2008. We were all floored. It was horrible to see so close to Christmas.

    I have no doubts my friend who lost her husband to brain cancer last year was slammed with something similar to your situation. Around the “year in review” time…she disappeared. She’s posted three times since then, and while she’s not one of “those” people…three times in 2 weeks is suspect.

    This just wasn’t thought through and … is just awful.

  256. While a part of me is relieved to know I’m not the only one who struggled through 2014, another part of me is saddened to hear of others tragedies. 2014 was horrendous. I lost the 2 most important men in my life. By the end of 2013, my dads stroke had rendered him mentally incompetent to make his own medical decisions for himself so by 2014, I was signing his medical documentation to amputate his limb after gangrene had set in on his leg. Shortly after, my husband decided he needed to move on and neither wanted to bear the burden of being a husband or a father to our 4 year old child and 4 month old newborn baby so we were forced to move many states away or face homelessness all for the sake of his new relationship with a woman he had been having an affair with. After filing for divorce and enduring months of living out of my suitcase without my property, my dad’s arthritis cut off his spinal cord and he became paralyzed from the neck down. I elected not to have the horribly painful and unreliable surgery which did not sit well with my family. As I sat through the weeks of feeding lunches to both my father and my infant during my visits to the nursing home, I often felt that I was entirely too young for all this. The depression took hold deeply. I wanted to die. I was watching my dad, my best friend wither away while both learning to become a single mother and also watching my husband openly cheat on me by publicly announcing on facebook that he was in a relationship with someone while married to me. I wanted to die. I often wished I would. Sometimes I thought about how the rush of the water would feel as it rushed into my lungs after plunging my car off of a bridge. I don’t know why I’m still alive right now because for all intents and purposes, I probably shouldn’t be here. My rock bottom hit when my father passed away September 24th, my husbands new girlfriend wanted to meet my children (before my youngest even turned one year), she began making passive aggressive attacks at me, and I learned not only about the extensive cheating with many of my friends that took place starting the evening of my departure but I also learned of the new half sibling my children would soon be having and I was not one who was pregnant. If there were a way to turn this year into the quintessential Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I would gladly partake of the miracle procedure. Despite the lack of this miracle cure, my secondary desire is not to have a reminder of how I became a single mother over night, how my husband had multiple affairs, how my father withered to his death, or how I dropped from a size 8 at 140 lbs to a size 1 at 105 lbs within 2 months. My year was far from happy and calling this year a nightmare or traumatic would be a gross understatement. I digress. While I deeply sympathize with many of you all for the traumatic year, I thank you all for coming forward with your stories. I can only pray that despite the traumatic losses many of us have suffered, the following year will bring much needed light into what has seems like a full year of darkness. You each have my most heartfelt and gracious wishes for happiness in the upcoming year.

  257. Hi Eric. Sincere Empathy and condolences concerning the loss of your daughter. I also was presented with the “Year in Review” App from Facebook. Unfortunately the App inserted pictures of my broken back x-rays into the card. I chose to display the card anyway… just as you did. I did not forget about my back problem to be reminded from the App. I did not post an article at the Washington Post about my pain or mention it in my blog. The App did not work out for some of us but there was the option to change it or not publish it… Facebook provides a free service that helps us connect with each other. I see that you have inserted the card into this blog. Really? Harlen Shelton

  258. What i find more disturbing than the app popping up in my feed, is the position of some of the commentators, some of the logic is reasonable but quite apparent they have no empathy or understanding of the impact this app has had, especially without a comparable experience.

    Yes, it is true that when Eric, and those of us who also lost someone this year (or any year for that matter) chose to share the news and memories with our friends and family on Facebook, i found it an effective tool to do so and an effective form for people to comment without everybody ringing me at a time i had no interest in talking to people. The photos i shared were on my terms, and yes i will go back and look at those albums and his fb page and in my home the photos on my wall and real albums and belongings or whatever on my own terms, when i am ready to deal with the emotions it brings.

    But yes many of you who criticise Eric and his blog are right that just walking past a photo or bedroom or whatever can and will trigger one to many emotions across it’s spectrum, that it is something we have already shared that has simply been collated… that is not the issue but that with Facebook is a matter of being able to OPT IN to a feature rather than their standard rule of OPTING OUT and just saying surprise, here is a photo of your dead child ready or not and yes i know they didn’t intend that but that is not your choice to suddenly have that memory thrust in your face when you are not ready with it.

    In saying all that we all understand that Facebook is an end user free platform and that we agree to the TOS to use it and that the FB team can develop it as they seem fit, however all some people are asking is a bit of forethought before pushing an opt out feature.

  259. My heart goes out to you. My “year in review” was a photo of the NICU doors where my newborn son almost died.

    I think this is a side-effect of only having the Like button. There is no way to gage the bad from the good, since it’s all “likes.”

  260. I’m sorry to hear about your loss.

    Yes, I too found Facebook’s “Year in Review” project a little unsettling when I discovered a piece on the highlights of my year – a piece that I didn’t create… plastered all over the public page. I ‘shrugged’ the matter off, but considering that it was a year in which my sister and I had to deal with the death of our father, and I had some special dedications to Dad up there on my page, I can appreciate how this may upset some people when it happens to them. I know that I willingly shared these things with friends, but I did not ask Facebook to create and extra photo-doc and post it up there.

    Just as well I am not too ‘thin-skinned’ and I could move on from this, but I wish Facebook would be more mindful of people’s privacy. I’m still a little disgruntled, though, that over the past few months, Facebook has been ignoring all my privacy settings by defaulting back to their preferred settings, every time try to customise my own. All this goes to show that Facebook is good for light social chit-chat with friends and acquaintances, but we need to be very wary about posting up and sensitive material.

    Adrian McG

  261. I also lost one of my sons this past June. I agree that the Facebook “year in review” was not thought out. I am sure there are many FB users who did not have such a wonderful year. To add to the hurt, so many of my son’s good friends were posted and it was hard to see when my son, their friend, is no longer with us. They are all great and very supportive of our family and our experience. By taking part in this they meant no harm to our family or others who’s year was less than wonderful.

  262. Although a new house was the cover for my year in review, it also showed me photo reminders of my cat that had just died (painfully), as well as this was the first ‘year’ without my aunt and uncle. I was fully aware of the algorithms, as I am/was a social media professional. I did this for a living. And one of the greatest things we said was, make people care about your post/tweet. Make it useful or insightful and sharable.
    People did care, they “liked” it and commented. The offered their condolences or grief or shared sorrow.
    As you wrote above, perhaps facebook could have given the option of WHAT KIND OF YEAR you had. Mine was a year of reliving memories (not making them), missing people, sharing last moments with loved ones and trying to celebrate an empty house.

  263. First, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m so sorry that you and your family have had to experience this terrible grief.

    “The design is for the ideal user” and therein lies the logical fallacy. There are no ideal users. We’re all imperfect, flawed creatures and we share more than just happy thoughts on Facebook.

    To me, the fact that they launched this feature at all is shocking. Surely, someone at FB might have thought that not everyone wants this kind of summary popping up. When you have hundreds of millions of users, edge cases happen with alarming frequency and can’t be ignored.

  264. One of the most important problems we face today, as techniques and systems become more and more pervasive, is the risk of missing that fine, human point that may well make the difference between success and failure, fair and unfair, right and wrong … no IBM computer has an education in the humanities.
    —— Tom Watson

  265. sono molto dispiaciuto per la morte di tua figlia, avendo anch’io un bimbo di 2 anni. Ti sono vicino con il pensiero.

  266. I’m sorry about your loss and that the people at FB weren’t bright enough to figure out things like this could happen but I want to point out something, which maybe isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things but should still be said. It’s a response to this.

    >>> I know they’re probably pretty proud of the work that went into the “Year in Review” app they designed and developed, and deservedly so—a lot of people have used it to share the highlights of their years.

    They shouldn’t be proud at all. As a former programmer it was quickly recognizable as the worst kind of crap-design and programming. Some of us joked that they most have put hundreds of seconds into it when we first saw it and how bad it was. They deserve no credit and lots of blame for churning out garbage and further proof is the unthinking impact of what you called “algorithmic cruelty”. That’s essentially just another way of saying lazy and haphazard. It was bound to cause problems. As I understand it they based the selection of materials partly based on posts that had the most reaction or comments. It amazes me that it never occurred to someone there that tragedies often elicit the most commentary.

    Lazy and haphazard is also the main reason a lot of people have used it. It requires even less effort than e-Cards online and it was easy for a lot of people to post something faux-personalized with 1 or 2 clicks with no easy ways to customize it. Faux indeed.

    If they HAD invested time and money in developing something worthwhile it would have made it simple for you to select images, enter text and control what was there. That’s hardly a revolutionary concept. There are literally tens of thousands of online apps that allow you to make simple web/desktop publishing style creations and they don’t require post-graduate degree to use them. There are entire businesses based on that simple mechanism. Given FB profits it’s pathetic that they couldn’t master something that simple.

    I can’t imagine they did any real-world testing at all. You’d think that it would be apparent quickly that not everyone’s year went so well that they’d WANT to remember items randomly picked from it.

  267. Mark Tralbry: Very well articulated! Thank you :)

  268. A friend directed me to your post, somehow I missed it. Maybe it’s because I bury myself at the holidays and hold my breath until they’re over. Anyways, I started reading your story and got consumed in it. My heart breaks for you and I can’t express how sorry I am that you, Kat, Carolyn and Rebecca had to go through this. My mom died from a grade 4 glioblastoma on June 28, 2013, exactly 364 days after she went to the hospital with a headache. I understand so much of your pain and thoughts. Brain cancer is an evil vile disease and I wish it got more attention. So to you, for being able to write a piece that sparked interest in Rebecca’s story, and maybe shed a little light on the terrible thing called brain cancer, I thank you. May they find a cure or better yet the cause and be able to save lives soon.

  269. Thank you for writing this article. Today I became so overwhelmed by grief when Facebook ‘reminded’ me of a year from 4 years ago, when my sister’s brain cancer was in remission. Nearby there were ads related to Christmas presents… my sister died this past Christmas Eve. She was 22 years old. I hate the thought that it’s nearly been a year since – it feels so raw still. I can’t stand any of it. I just deactivated my account because I can’t take the reminders and “holiday cheer.” I couldn’t even make the decision without feeling guilty though because, as I was deactivating, Facebook reminded me that without me, my sister’s ‘Cancer Sucks, but Christy Rocks’ page goes offline too (this is the site we made to keep family/friends up to date with cancer updates during those 5 1/2 years).

  270. Kim, You are not alone …
    I’m so sorry for the loss of your beloved sister, and fully understand your grief and anger at facebook. I too, was overwhelmed and devastated after facebook posted their year end review with photos of my Mother surrounded by cheery balloons and images of people dancing [such as was posted at the top]… My Mother suddenly, and unexpectedly passed away in January, 2014… I never got to tell her one last time that I loved her, say “Good bye” , or thank her one last time for every sacrifice she ever made for me and our family. The year-end review made me relive one of the most agonizing times of my entire life. GOOD FOR YOU, for removing that which is toxic and causes you additional grief!! You have proven your inner strength and WILL make it through this!! Much respect, love and peace to you!

  271. Last March my brother passed away suddenly. Recently I started getting notifications of the “Year in Review”. Remembering this article from last year, I decided to just not look at them.

  272. I’m starting to get calls from people that want to sell me an extended warranty for my car. The one my wife was killed in last year. So it’s great to have strangers calling me up to remind me of that loss.

    Thanks on-line databases.

  273. I am sorry for your loss.

    It is possible to cancel the “year in review” “feature”. It wasn’t easy, I had to click the ‘v’ symbol and “hide this post” and the followup, “I don’t want to see this” several times before the it was removed from my timeline.

    So, no year in review for me.

  274. This happened to me yesterday in a different way, so not much has changed. My dad passed away recently, and I memorialized his Facebook account, so Facebook knows that this was a horrible event in my life. Yesterday, I logged into Facebook and got a message with the text “Answer a question to help people get to know you! [Cute little happy ghost emoji] If you could bring anyone back to life, you’d bring back….” .

    Needless to say I was very upset, and it ruined my whole day. If this happens to my sister, who is having to go through the awful process of cleaning out dad’s house, I am sure it will be very distressing. My friend at Facebook has kindly agreed to escalate this to the team concerned, but it’s just unfathomable that this stuff still happens. We know they have enough data to avoid this and common sense says that this is a pretty stupid question.

    I’m sorry you had to go through this too, it’s very distressing.

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