Algorithmic cruelty



His point about thoughtlessness is very well put, I never looked at it that way. But I’m not sure I can get my outrage up on behalf of those who, in their grief, are compelled to hang out all day on Facebook, not thinking about the one they’ve lost.


Computer serves data that an algorithm correctly detects as relevant. News at eleven. Figuring out who is sensitive to what in what context is adding a whole lot of chiefly unnecessary complexity and turns a possible task into unfeasible. Propose a better algorithm if you have a better idea. Ideally in pseudocode.

As of the notoriously difficult Facebook config, couldn’t somebody just make a browser extension that would make enabling/disabling such things accessible via rightclick menu or onmouseover icon or so? If The Zuck doesn’t want to make it so, we (they, I hate the FB crap and don’t intend touching it with a six feet broomstick in any foreseeable time) still have ways.

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There is a extension/addon called Social Fixer. The downside is that it uses CSS code change how FB looks. So something like this it wouldn’t be able to touch.

Yes, would need something like Greasemonkey’s GM_xmlhttpRequest. CSS is pretty much just reskinning.

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IANAFU, but grieving from the death of a loved one can be a long process, and there’s a point in that timeline where one can begin to live a mostly normal life (such as browsing Facebook), but constantly seeing appropriating pictures of the lost one are still extremely painful to see.

I think they had similar blowback with “people you may know” pictures showing up in the ads a while back; some folks were seeing ads using photes of exes and dead family members.


I really don’t think he wants you to be outraged on his behalf, or even outraged at all. Cory’s removal of ‘Inadvertent’ from the title suggests that he might, but that’s a whole other issue.

It’s not right to assume the author was hanging out on Facebook all day instead of grieving. It may have just been a post informing people outside the immediate family about the death of their daughter. I’d prefer to use Facebook for something like that instead of needing to make countless phone calls where I repeat the same words over and over until they lose all meaning. I’d rather spend my time thinking about the one I’d lost.


Computer serves data that an algorithm correctly detects as relevant. News at eleven. Figuring out who is sensitive to what in what context is adding a whole lot of chiefly unnecessary complexity and turns a possible task into unfeasible. Propose a better algorithm if you have a better idea.

Or they could carry on doing what they already do - suggest a series of photos that may be relevant, and allow the user to customise and upload them, use them without change our not upload them at at. It’s a purely voluntary service that you can choose to accept or not. If you’re really upset by the photos, take them off your feed. All of these photos are already public based on his own preferences. I can’t imagine losing one of my own children, but this is only as cruel as (for example) finding one of her socks in the dryer months later - a sudden and painful reminder of your grief through objects that are still present in your life.

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You can customize it. I don’t know why you are talking about uploads as the pictures are ones that have already been uploaded to Facebook throughout the year.

Each even like this brings us one step closer to Butlerian Jihad.


Is that the Brian Herbert version, or the Willis McNelly version?


Exactly. This is an option that has been available for the last short while, where you can put up a summary of the year in pictures. If you don’t want to be reminded of events or people in your past, you could remove the photos that you have already uploaded, but it’s really not Facebook’s fault if they don’t recognise that you don’t want to share the photos that you already shared during the year. One guy I know lost his son suddenly just over a year ago (he just didn’t wake up one morning). Writing about it and having a photo of the two of them together as his profile picture is one way of coming to terms with his loss. Writing a decreased relative out of the overview could be more painful, you just don’t know what will be worse for the individual. This cruelty just seems to be one of those reminders that you’ll get every time something reminds you of the person - the algorithm is not cruel, the school that you walk past every day is not cruel, they’re just unwelcome reminders of how cruel reality has been.


I guess this is where my fundamental lack of understanding of the purpose of Facebook comes in, because I don’t get why anyone would want that feature. Yeah, it was my year, presumably I put the pictures up - why do I want to see them, over and over again, already? If these were happy pictures that I actually wanted to look at that much, surely I’d already have been doing so? It just reaffirms my prejudice that social media is all about colonic introspection.


Yes, heaven forbid that sometime after losing someone, a person might start using a tool designed to reach out to family and friends. Where in dealing with grief does that come up, right?

The whole point is that this has consequences for humans beyond what is expected, so designers might want to consider the edge cases of what they make to avoid making things awful for vulnerable people. I see computers aren’t the only ones incapable of grasping it.


There’s also inadvertent algorithmic hilarity. My wife changed my brother’s FB photo to a monkey picking it’s nose when my brother left his page open on my computer during a visit 7 or 8 months ago. Guess what got picked (and he didn’t change) as his header picture. :smile:


Figuring out who is sensitive to what in what context…

This is pretty much the basis of Facebook’s entire business model.


While I completely agree that it might be jarring and distressing for someone to see the face of a child they lost picked out by an algorithm and displayed like this, I suspect the algorithm could be deemed successful for selecting a very significant event of the year.

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This is interesting, because for some reason, the picture I got was a picture from several years (>10) ago with my then girlfriend and a friend who died in 2010.


Similarly, my older sister died suddenly and unexpectedly in January. When these “It’s been a great year” things started popping up all over FB, I knew better than to look at my own. Finally, after a few days’ looking at other people’s year-end summaires and thinking about it all I finally looked at what FB had picked for me, knowing fully well what I would likely see there. Sure enough, photos from the reception after my sister’s memorial service figured quite prominently in the feature. I toyed briefly with replacing those photos with others from happier events later in the year, but it just felt dishonest to try to pretend that this event had not happened. So I closed it all back up again and walked away. It might have been a great year for many people, but I’m not going to pretend that it was the same for me.


Facebook is useful as a tool for communications, between people with existing social bonds. It could be replaced by other tools, but for the moment, it happens to be more convenient, mostly because it’s so widely used.

The thing is, it’s useful for intentional communications between people. When my friend posts a link to a news article with some political criticisms, when my cousin posts photos of herself with her baby, these are welcome. I actually want to hear from them.

What’s really not at all useful to me, what’s in fact quite irritating, is when Facebook pushes crap at me. The version of “Your Year in Review” I got wasn’t upsetting, but it was unwelcome and annoying. It was just some random excerpts from my timeline, with some sort of implication that I’m supposed to be overwhelmed with the feels, but it had no particular meaning.