December 29th, 2014, 10:53 AM
Facebook forced to apologise to users
With the death of his six-year-old daughter, Rebecca, Eric Meyer had suffered a year of heartache and loss, one that will take him many more to get over.
So the web designer from Cleveland, Ohio, was ill-prepared to have that grief dragged up again when he logged on to Facebook to discover a picture of her, with the cheery message: 'Eric, here's what your year looked like.'
Mr Meyer was just one of a number of the social network's users stunned as a new feature brought them face-to-face with dead loved ones by offering them a selection of their highlights of the year .
Unleashed just before Christmas, Facebook's Year In Review feature sorts photos automatically from users' profiles, selecting those which had provoked the most responses as 'highlights'.
For a number of users, the choices brought back unpleasant memories.
Mr Meyer wrote on his blog, meyerweb.com, how, following his daughter Rebecca's death, he had not felt inclined to see his Facebook 'Year In Review', despite seeing his friends' slideshows popping up in his news feed.
Then he logged in to the social network shortly before Christmas to find it exhorting him directly to make one of his own.
It was decorated with a picture of his late daughter, staring straight at him from the screen.
'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,' he wrote.
Conceding it was not a 'deliberate assault', but a perverse outcome of Facebook's automation, Mr Meyer nevertheless called the incident 'jarring'.
'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,' he wrote.
'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.'
After Mr Meyer's blog post went viral, Jonathan Gheller, product manager for Facebook, emailed him to apologise.
Mr Gheller told The Washington Post: '[The app] was awesome for a lot of people, but clearly in this [Mr Meyer's] case we brought him grief rather than joy.'