As much as Facebook ostensibly wants to be your friend, it mostly just wants to be a growing, massive data cache of your life, filled with loads of information about you—some true, some false.
The latest comic evidence: some Facebook users were greeted with a “Happy New Year” message on the top of their News Feeds Wednesday and Thursday in celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish holiday celebrating the New Year.
It wasn’t available to everyone, though, and some of the users saw it shared on Twitter that, nope, they weren’t Jewish. Others said, at the very least, they never self-identified to Facebook that they were Jewish (which they would’ve done by listing it as their chosen religion on their Facebook profiles).
This is creepy in many levels… I don’t have any religion listed on my profile and Facebook just wished me a happy Jewish new year.
— Mau Sadicoff (@tatonka) September 21, 2017
With all of its data, Facebook might be able to correctly identify who is Jewish and who isn’t. The algorithm knows a lot about its users based on what they click on and what Pages they follow and what Groups they are in. Maybe they follow a Jewish summer camp, or have a bunch of friends who did. Maybe they have friends who started a Facebook group after they all went on a Birthright Trip to Israel. Whatever assumptions Facebook’s making, they’re not hitting the mark with plenty of people.
Facebook clarified who it shared the message with after publication of this article.
“We send messages about religious moments to people in countries where a large proportion of the population observes the religion, or where the religious date is a public holiday. We may also show the message to people who’ve expressed interest in the holiday,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote in an email.
Expressing interest apparently may include writing on someone’s Facebook timeline.
I got one after I wished my Jewish friends a happy new year on FB
— Christel vander Boom (@Xtel) September 21, 2017
“If the message is not relevant, people can opt-out by clicking on the menu in the upper right corner of the unit and selecting ‘hide posts,'” the spokesperson wrote.
Regardless if users can opt-out, it’s just not a good look. Especially given how the company’s perpetually in a defensive PR war over their ad targeting, and all it implies—especially as of late. For example: A recent ProPublica report found that advertisers could target ads to “Jew-haters” or “how to burn Jews.”
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg responded to that report in a lengthy post Wednesday: “The fact that hateful terms were even offered as options was totally inappropriate and a fail on our part,” she wrote.
Facebook’s shareable cards (like the aforementioned Rosh Hashanah one) are part of the company’s broader efforts to create a warmer, fuzzier experience for its 2 billion users, plenty of whom use the social network to share fake news and hurl hate speech at one another.
Gary Briggs, Facebook’s chief marketing officer, told Mashable last year that they’ve been working “for some time” at coming up with “experiences for [users] to share.” The big idea here, according to Facebook’s content strategy lead Alicia Dougherty-Wold, is “a good statement of investment for caring for people and wanting to express that to our community.” She said this last year. The kicker? Per Doughtery-Wold:
“I expect people to see that the quality of the experience should only be getting better over the next year.”
Welp! Guess we’ll be waiting a little longer.
Because, uh, people aren’t exactly feeling that quality:
Dear Facebook, I appreciate the well wishes.
But I’m not Jewish.
— Ray R. (@rrothfeldt) September 21, 2017
This post was updated with a statement from Facebook.