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Thursday, March 24, 2011

When Friends Die, Keep Creeps Out of Their Facebook Page

Posted By on Thu, Mar 24, 2011 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge dearannaweb_thumb_500x359.jpeg


I recently had a college friend pass away and I found out through Facebook (weird) wrote on the memorial's Facebook event page (weirder) and subsequently received more than 10 new friend requests from people we mutually knew but with whom I had no contact. To be honest, I want to delete the dead guy's profile. I don't want to be tempted to stare at my dead friend's photos every time I'm feeling like an emotional prune. Same thing happened with a MySpace friend of mine back in the day, except someone took over said dead friend's account and would occasionally post weird shit from it, so it was like having a dumb internet ghost speak to you from the beyond. Dead friend would be all, "Hey guys! Miss you!" Creep deep.
What should I do with dead Facebook friends? Leave them, delete them, report them as deceased, etc. I seriously have no idea what the etiquette is.

~Friends Till The End

Super creep deep. MySpace had such a problem with deceased users that sites like MyDeathSpace.com were created to try to match obituaries with neglected user profiles. Thankfully, MySpace has mostly gone the way of the dinosaurs and Friendster. Dealing with the digital footprint of the deceased is a sensitive issue, to be sure, but there are a few routes you can take. One is to turn the deceased person's profile into a memorial page. Here's the form to do that. Facebook will memorialize the profile of a deceased user no matter who sends the request, and proof of death, while helpful, is not required.There's not an option to request that a deceased user's account remain active. However, since nobody's profile is ever removed for inactivity, if no one notifies FB, then their account will stay as it is until someone takes action.

If you turn someone's FB profile into a memorial page, it removes their wall posts, contact information, and status updates, so no one has to be reminded about how often you shared that "Total Eclipse of the Heart: Literal Video Version" video. (Since I'm only dead inside, here it is again!)

Other changes to a memorialized profile are that only confirmed friends can see it. No one can log into that account, but friends can still leave posts on the wall. Also, once you memorialize a page, that person won't show up in "people you may know" suggestions or in search results. The only other option besides memorialization is to have the profile of a deceased user completely removed from the site. FB will do this only if the request comes from an immediate family member.

As Facebook's head of security Max Kelly wrote in 2009 about the feature, "When someone leaves us, they don't leave our memories or our social network." On the one hand, we are increasingly becoming reliant on the Internet to preserve our lives and memories. E-mails have replaced letters. We have Flickr accounts now instead of photo albums. Journals are in blog and Tumblr form. While I believe Facebook has good intentions, there's something that seems a bit unheimlich and morbidly voyeuristic about having an online presence until the end of time, even if it's in the form of a memorial. But then, I'm squeamish about people even knowing my relationship status on Facebook, so maybe I'm being too cyber sensitive.

Of course, if looking at pictures of your dead friend turns you into "an emotional prune," you always have the option to defriend. It may seem a tad gauche, or insensitive, but if it helps you better deal with the grieving process, then more power to you. After all, life is short, and you never know when the next poke will be your last.

Social-media mistress Anna Pulley likes to give advice about how to play well with others on the internets. If you have a question about etiquette involving technology, shoot her a question at AskAnnaSF@gmail.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @annapulley and @ExhibitionistSF
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Anna Pulley

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