Caryn Vainio‏: my friend died, but I didn’t know, because algorithms

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:

Interesting and sad:

For those of you who work in social media, I need to share the story of my friend who died, and I didn’t know because algorithms.

A friend I’ve known mostly online for 15+ years died this weekend. Our friendship started on an old gaming forum, but continued on Facebook.

He was part of a group of friends, and we’ve all stayed connected via Facebook. He didn’t post much, but he liked and commented a lot.

I met him once years ago, and just two months ago he told me he’d love to host me and my family down in Portland when we got down there.

I found out from a mutual friend on FB that he’d died, and had been hospitalized. I was shocked. I NEVER saw this in my feed. Ever.

So I flipped to his feed, and sure enough, there’d been a post in November about him being in the hospital. I was never shown this post.

Now, I’m a meticulous FB feed peruser. I always set it to Most Recent and browse until I see the stuff I saw last time. I keep up.

Other friends have confirmed that they too never saw his hospital post. So now we’re all horrified. We never knew to reach out.

And worse, we never commented, because we never saw it. Did he die wondering if we cared? He didn’t know, and we didn’t know.

All because FB’s algorithm presumably decided that he didn’t post much, so he didn’t warrant enough attention in our feeds.

So now today not only have I lost a friend, a bunch of us are horrified that we never knew, and we don’t know if he KNEW we didn’t know.

In the age of online relationships that social media companies claim to facilitate in a positive way, this feels like unacceptable.