Facebook cares about our heartbreak?

On: October 26, 2010
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About Cendy Calis
I recently finished a Media and Culture bachelor at the University of Amsterdam with a specialization in New Media and so it seemed a logical step to broaden my knowledge with a Master degree in New Media. During my time in Amsterdam I have actively participated in student life and organization. Being pretty much a dreamer myself my area of interests are always all over the place.


Facebook has declared that they will stop showing your ex’s in the Photo Memories box (occasionally on the top right box, where the adds usually are). In practice this means that they’ve created an algorithm which won’t show tagged pictures of friends you have previously been in a relationship with in the Photo Memories Box. That is of course only if you had declared your relationship on Facebook.

Facebook introduced Photo Memories  not so long ago. They emitted this statement as a reaction to the Facebook group ‘I hate photo memories’, which spawned as a reaction to this new feauture. Interestingly enough, on the day the anouncements was made it had 701 member and now 5 days later the group grew to 1010 members.. Perhaps Facebook is trying to demonstrate that they do something with received feedback, but isn’t this like throwing a dog a bone? Should we be happy and content now? It seems we are not, hence the growth of the Facebook group even after Facebook gave in a little.

As a response to the statements reactions have been flooding in by users. Users feel like this is nice and all, but it would be better if the user could decide if they want this photo memories feature in the first place, as can be read on the groups wall. For example, make it something optional.  For some it is even worse as they are still taunted with catching up with deceased friends, despite the option to memorialize pages. Then there’s also the matter of privatized photos which are sometimes not so private anymore through Photo Memories. The commotion surrounding Photo Memories is just another example of a surfacing privacy issues and criticism surrounding Facebook.

While the users want more control,  this just seems to show that control is already lost. The photo’s in the Photo Memories box pop up even if you have untagged yourself, the algorithm is based on how often you looked at certain pictures. This proves that Facebook data has become unmanageable. Furthermore, you would have to have declared your relationship on Facebook in order to avoid seeing your ex. This means in order to protect your from your own data, Facebook needs more data. Sounds like quite the catch 22. Moreover, there is no guarantee that you won’t be reminded of flings or any other awkward encounters that remained unrecorded by Facebook. Also, what if you were in a fake Facebook relationship with your best friend? No photo memories anymore.

Heartbreak on Facebook also goes together in the changing of relationship status. What if you entered that you were in a relationship and you now have to change your status to the dreaded ‘single’. This status is accompanied by a broken heart symbol and perhaps it is understandable that you don’t want to boast this around very publicly in the newsfeed. There are however different strategies to prevent this. You could delete the status immediately if you don’t want anyone to see. Not many people seem to know that you can go from in a ‘relationship’, to nothing.  This knowledge for example came too late for this woman.

These are perfect examples that an algorithm cannot understand complex human emotions. At least, not the algorithms we know right now. Before it could be hurtful to see pictures of your ex a week after the relationship ended. Now that time you jokingly added a relationship with your roommate, bans her from your photo memories feed. We simply can’t expect an algorithm to be sensitive with our feelings or to know our underlying intentions behind our actions and the way our surrounding would respond to that.

So if we know that ‘the machine’  won’t understand our complex human relationships, why do we feel like we need to keep making the machine part of it by making something so human as a ‘friendship’ with all its different meanings and variables part of an integrated system? Sure we complain about Facebook, but wasn’t it us who created an account in the first place?

It is no surprise that people are quitting Facebook over these kinds of things, as it is the only adequate solution to these problems. In that light, Facebook’s recent statement seems more like a token stunt in an attempt to appease the commotion, commotion that will only grow with time if Facebook continues to give users the feeling that their privacy is violated.

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