1 January 2015

World View: Facebook needn’t apologise for its Year in Review

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Rupert Myers
January 1, 2015 

If its algorithm throws out some jarring moments, perhaps it’s time to think twice about how much we share online

You don’t need to go out this New Year’s Eve to find yourself trapped by a stranger, being bored humourless by humblebragging references to their achievements in 2014, because the Internet has mainlined this straight into your home. Where once manners might have prevented the nastiest excesses of oversharing and boasting, we can now unashamedly wallow in how epic our lives are, or how stunning we can make them seem, by piping a stream of our curated moments out to our friends.

We now churn so much of ourselves out onto the Internet that Facebook has had to apologise for its Year In Review generator, after users complained that the algorithm generated galleries contained “jarring” content, including, in some cases, images of their deceased children.

Facebook should not have to apologise for regurgitating what people have uploaded themselves. The past isn’t over any more but rather the ceaselessly searchable present. And the Year In Review is a reminder of just how much of ourselves — our elation, grief and despair — we record and spray into the vast electronic mind palace of the Internet.Commodification of privacy

Most of us lost all sense of shame, any notion of privacy, any concerns about boastfulness when Facebook and other social networks tricked us into thinking that we would enjoy becoming the star of our own Internet experience. The commodification of our privacy and the gamification of our popularity transformed our social lives at electric speed. No longer were our thoughts and feelings our own; they were a currency to be swapped publicly. We soon became self-publishers of misery and joy. The Facebook wall became a community noticeboard, on to which we would announce births, engagements and deaths.

Yet this passive-aggression of boasting online, the uploading of expensive plates of food in restaurants, checking into airports, and the photographing of our own faces rather than the view, are all strands to the new social web that Facebook is now feeding back to us. People I know are starting to leave, exhausted by what one described as a “bragbook” effect.Disliking accuracy

On this occasion, Facebook’s only mistake was to try to make the Year In Review feature accurate. Nobody wants accuracy on their timeline. Nobody wants loneliness, boredom, or hardships. If it isn’t acute joy, or bitter agony, how will it gain more interactions than other people’s updates? If the thought of being reminded of a painful moment, or the exposure of your vulnerability offends you, should you have posted it on the Internet in the first place?

The backlash against the Year In Review exposes three important lessons: we share too much of ourselves with the Internet; there is, mercifully, a limit to how much bragging we can stomach; and we don’t want reality on our social networks. At least as more people realise this, they might take a step back and create a little healthy distance between their private lives and the Internet. For the lessons we can learn from its latest idea, we should be thanking Facebook, rather than demanding an apology. — ©Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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