United Kingdom — By now, many of us have family members and Facebook friends who have passed away, and as well as the usual stages of grieving, the internet age has introduced the added burden of what happens to their Facebook profile.
By: Michaela Whitton
This article first appeared at ANTIMEDIA
When someone passes away, their Facebook account can be a memorial to their life — a library of experiences, thoughts, music tastes, whereabouts, relationships, and photographs. Some may be clear on how they want your online presence to endure after death, but most haven’t even considered it. Facebook has learned to manage the delicate balance through experience and has devised measures that give family members of deceased users two options.
“If Facebook is made aware that a person has passed away, it’s our policy to memorialize the account,” the company states.
Georgie Harrison, 24, who has experienced the loss of a young friend, told Anti-Media what she thinks should happen to a deceased person’s Facebook identity: “I think their profile should be kept as a memorial with all their information on so that their loved ones are able to remember them fondly by their page.”
Describing her experience of loss, she said the profile should be invisible to the public/press and kept only for loved ones and friends.
“Seeing his profile go from normal to ‘Remembering’ was very upsetting so I recommend not doing that so soon. However, it is so lovely to still have his personality to visit two years after he has gone and still be friends with him. It’s really lovely to click ‘See Friendship’ and see what we had too, so for that it is nice — albeit strange.”
On the option of memorialising a profile or deleting it, she was adamant: “I think the difference between that and deleting it is A LOT – it would be terribly sad for something that represents an individual so well and that they have put so much time into to be completely erased.”
She added that she wants her own profile to either stay live or be memorialised so that people can remember her. “It’s a way of keeping someone and their memory alive. To delete it would be deleting that person,”she said.
Before changes to an account are made, Facebook needs proof the user has died through use of an online form. The memorialisation of the account then undergoes a number of stages, including the removal of sensitive data such as the user’s contact information and their status updates to protect privacy. The user’s login information is deleted and settings are changed so that only existing friends can find the account and post to the deceased user’s wall.
If no one contacts Facebook to inform the company of a user’s passing, the profile remains active indefinitely and, depending on the user’s privacy settings, people can still search for, view, and comment on the profile.
Nathan Sutherland, 23, told the Anti-Media that he also thinks a Facebook profile should be kept as a memorial to the person. “It happened to me with my cousin,” he said. “It keeps people in touch who wouldn’t necessarily keep in contact otherwise and is especially important for family who can see loved ones paying their respects, leaving posts and photos.”
He added that while deleting the profile would cause no real damage, people could argue it should be kept as a “virtual headstone.”
He is convinced Facebook is such a staple of his generation that photos, videos, messages and moments are a large part of a person’s identity — and deleting them could be seen as wiping the person away.
Asked what he wants to happen to his own profile, Sutherland says he doesn’t care. “I couldn’t care less, it’s a macabre reminder that I once was a part of an active online social media website but I would only allow it be kept open if I knew someone had full control over it.”
If all this talk of death wasn’t sobering enough, the expression, “there’s an app for that,” has never had more meaning than with the “free social media end of life tool” that gives users an opportunity to say goodbye to friends in a message to be published after their death.
For those still confused as to what will happen to their digital assets upon death, Facebook has it covered. The site has a feature allowing users to choose a Legacy Contact to manage your account when you pass away. Users give your legacy contact permission to download an archive of their photos, posts, and profile information, but they cannot log-in as the deceased — and don’t worry, they won’t be able to see your private messages, either.
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