Facebook Apologizes for Algorithm Mishap That Threw Balloons and Confetti on Indonesia Earthquake Posts
Facebook’s algorithm that triggers balloons and confetti when users write the word “congratulations” on the site is usually just a festive add-on.
But it took an inadvertent turn in Indonesia following a deadly, 6.9 magnitude earthquake on the island of Lombok on Sunday. Users took to Facebook to express concern for those affected by the earthquake, employing the Indonesian word “selamat”—which can mean safe or unhurt, but can also mean congratulations depending on the context.
The word was misinterpreted by Facebook’s algorithm, accidentally prompting the celebratory animation.
Facebook quickly apologized for the mishap, noting that the feature is “widely available” on the site globally, but expressed regret “that it appeared in this unfortunate context.” Lisa Stratton, a Facebook spokesperson further explained to Motherboard that they have since turned off the feature locally, and said that their “hearts go out to the people affected by the earthquake.”
Herman Saksono, an Indonesian PhD student in human-computer interaction, expressed surprise that Facebook hadn’t accounted for the double meaning of “selamat,” telling Motherboard that “People use the word interchangeably.”
“Researchers spend a lot of time before launching a function like this to make sure it truly fits the culture and practices in languages in which it will be used,” he said. “I would expect Facebook to do the same, given all the resources they have. I guess [they] missed this one.”