Facebook attacked over dead relative photos in 'Year in Review' slides

The new feature automatically selects pictures from a users profile

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The Independent Tech

Facebook has apologised after a new feature inviting users to review a collection of their 2014 highlights caused some to be confronted with pictures of their recently deceased family members and friends.

The social-media site began inviting users to look at their “Year in Review”, a chronological collection of photos selected automatically from their profile, just before Christmas. It compiles their “highlights” by selecting the posts and pictures which provoked the most responses – but for many users, this dredged up highly unpleasant memories.

The issue was first highlighted by Eric Meyer, a web-design consultant from Cleveland, Ohio. Logging into Facebook, he was confronted by a picture of his six-year-old daughter, Rebecca, who died of brain cancer earlier this year, alongside the jaunty tagline: “Eric, here’s what your year looked like!”

In a blog post, Mr Meyer said he found the automatically generated image – which appeared against a background showing people celebrating – “jarring” and “wrong”, adding: “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.”

Blaming the Facebook algorithm that selected the pictures, he continued: “Algorithms are essentially thoughtless… 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.”

Facebook’s product manager for the Year in Review, Jonathan Gheller, later emailed Mr Meyer to apologise. “[The app] was awesome for a lot of people, but clearly in this case we brought him grief rather than joy,” he told The Washington Post.

But many other Facebook users complained of having similarly unpleasant experiences. Among them was Rosie from Haywards Heath in West Sussex, who wrote on Twitter that Facebook had “decided to entice me to view my year in review with a photo of my dead grandparents”.

The 31-year-old, who declined to give her surname, told The Independent: “My ‘Year in Review’ came up with a photo I’d posted following my Nonna’s unexpected passing recently. It struck me as ill-considered, because their algorithm clearly can’t distinguish why an image has been used – deceased relative, missing child, images taken following accidents or assaults – all things I’ve seen posted on Facebook this year which are hardly things you want  to remember.

“For some, those images will trigger horrid memories. In my case, I’m fortunate that my grandparents’ deaths are something I’d come to terms with. But it was just a bit vulgar that it appeared in a supposedly celebratory function, because they just don’t know the context of those pics.”

Mark Duffy, a freelance copywriter from New York, was confronted with a picture of his dead father’s ashes, while Sarah-Jane, a Twitter user from Australia, wrote: “I’m so glad that Facebook made my ‘Year in Review’ image a picture of my now dead dog. I totally wanted to sob uncontrollably this Xmas Eve.” Facebook declined to offer further comment.