When Algorithms Go Bad: Facebook Recommends Exes and Deceased

FacebookI’ve already written today about Facebook’s new feature that shows you which of your friends might need a helping hand to gain more contacts or keep their profiles updated with photos or content, but apparently there are more disconcerting recommendations going on.

Think of it as the social network equivalent of receiving mail in the post for someone who has died (the exact reason for the problem is a bit different, but the distress is comparable).

The fact is, the algorithms that are supposed to help Facebook provide useful recommendations can only look at previous and current links between people, with no understanding of context.

That’s why Facebook has recommended that some users reconnect with ex-partners, or even with people who have died (presumably the deceased simply have dormant accounts on Facebook now).

Emotionally unsettling to say the least.

As the amount of time we spend online increases, and as social networks try to gain a competitive edge by being “helpful” through clever programming, this could become a common problem. It’s finding a balance between automated systems and the human touch — the trouble with Facebook’s recommendation service is that there appears to be no easy way to turn it off, so you could easily be faced with people that you don’t want to, or can’t, connect with any more.

Some might say that users need to accept a certain level of automation, and the risk that it will make mistakes now and again, as part of using these services, but hopefully the algorithms will be able to get smarter, too.

What do you think?

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