IN ITS MISSION to harvest data for fun and profit, Facebook is all about making connections. The more connections you have, the more time you spend on Facebook, so it's understandable that the company expends a lot of energy on getting you to reach out to contacts you haven't interacted with in a while.
The problem is that it has a hard time telling whether the reason you've lost touch is that you're forgetful, you have irrecoverably fallen out or they've died. If you're prompted because of the first example it's welcome, while the second is a little annoying. The third, on the other hand, is just deeply upsetting.
Facebook has the option to memorialise contacts who have died and at that point, the site is sensible enough to stop suggesting them as party guests. But not everybody wants to do memorialise a profile, and even those that do will sometimes need time to take that step. This has often led to accidental but devastating examples of algorithmic tactlessness.
Facebook thinks it has the answer to this, and as per usual, it's AI. AI has a somewhat patchy record when it comes to being tactful, so we wouldn't put all our eggs in this particular basket, but there we are.
"If an account hasn't yet been memorialised, we use AI to help keep it from showing up in places that might cause distress, like recommending that person be invited to events or sending a birthday reminder to their friends," chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a blog post. "We're working to get better and faster at this."
In the same post, Sandberg unveiled a new tributes section for memorial profiles, meaning that people's memories don't bump down the last updates made by the person when they were alive. "This lets people see the types of posts that are most helpful to them as they grieve and remember their loved ones," she wrote.
At some point, this will be less of a problem. While Facebook has over two billion members right now, its popularity is slowing with the young whippersnappers that prefer the Tinders and Snappety Chat. Indeed, one statistician predicts the dead will outnumber the living on the platform by the year 2098.
That ought to give Mark Zuckerberg cause for concern on his 112th birthday. µ
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