Facebook Attaches Automatic Alternative Text to Photos

Posted on April 5, 2016

Facebook announced it has started adding automatic alternative text to photographs shared on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. Facebook says the feature will reach 2 billion photos. The technology was designed to help those who are blind or severely visually impaired.

Automatic alternative text generates a textual description of a photo using object recognition technology. The description will be read aloud for people using screen readers on an iOS device. The descriptive text will be very simple. An example Facebook gives is "three people, smiling, outdoors."

In HTML there is a tag called the "ALT Tag" which can be used to provide a text description for a photograph on a website. Facebook used a similar named for its feature. Facebook says it is called automatic alt text for short. On Facebook and Instagram the text is generated automatically by Facebook and it is not something users can input.

Facebook says in the announcement, "With more than 39 million people who are blind, and over 246 million who have a severe visual impairment, many people may feel excluded from the conversation around photos on Facebook. We want to build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it."

Facebook says its object recognition technology is based on a neural network that has billions of parameters and is trained with millions of examples. Previously, Facebook released this video showing its research into artificial intelligence which includes technology like the object recognition technology. Facebook says in the video that the alternative text will become more descriptive in the future. Take a look:

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