Facebook and the dead

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

This is the week Mexico celebrates Day of the Dead, that most colorful of all holidays. And every year about this time I always seem notice some news article reported in the computer/technical news sites I follow that is at least tangentially related to death and dying. This year will be no exception.

Here is a statistic that will come as a shock to many readers: The management for the popular social networking site Facebook.com acknowledges that its users will not live forever and out of its large user base a number of individuals are going to pass away someday. For Facebook on average that number is about ten thousand people a day! We can extrapolate from this number that every month Facebook looses a quarter-million of its users to death, and it naturally follows that some the deceased user’s survivors will contact Facebook either wanting access to the deceased’s account or asking what to do with the deceased’s profile. Responding to this, Facebook has an official policy establishing how the company deals with the rights of their ex-users who are no longer among the living.

The following statement may be found on the Facebook.com web site: “When someone leaves us, they don’t leave our memories or our social network. To reflect that reality, we created the idea of `memorialized’ profiles as a place where people can save and share their memories of those who’ve passed.”

Facebook’s policy statement goes on to say: “We understand how difficult it can be for people to be reminded of those who are no longer with them, which is why it’s important when someone passes away that their friends or family contact Facebook to request that a profile be memorialized. For instance, just last week, we introduced new types of Suggestions that appear on the right-hand side of the home page and remind people to take actions with friends who need help on Facebook. By memorializing the account of someone who has passed away, people will no longer see that person appear in their Suggestions.”

“When an account is memorialized, we also set privacy so that only confirmed friends can see the profile or locate it in search. We try to protect the deceased’s privacy by removing sensitive information such as contact information and status updates. Memorializing an account also prevents anyone from logging into it in the future, while still enabling friends and family to leave posts on the profile Wall in remembrance.”

The web site goes on to conclude with: “If you have a friend or a family member whose profile should be memorialized, please contact us, so their memory can properly live on among their friends on Facebook.”

So, the rules are that once a person’s account is memorialized no one may log into that account again. The profile is thus locked so that adding or removing friends, modifying photos, deleting any existing content or changing privacy settings cannot be done except by the Facebook staff. Facebook’s terms of service clearly state that only the owner of an account is permitted access to it; so this precludes any heirs or survivors ever recovering deceased’s password, or if they know it already they are not supposed to use it.

As I read the policy for memorializing a Facebook page, it does seem that anyone who can view a memorialized page can still send private messages to the deceased, but I am not sure how that works or in what form the deceased responds. It does show that Facebook is on the cutting edge of social networking technology though. Perhaps on Sunday when I visit the cemetery to see the decorated gravesites I will take along my tablet and see what happens if I log onto Facebook.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.


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