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Facebook Finally Realizes Its Members Die

In this week's Geekend column, author David Wagner asks if Facebook will still "like" you after you're gone.
Drones, Phones & More: What Tech Will Last A Century?
Drones, Phones & More: What Tech Will Last A Century?
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Just like America, Facebook has to figure out what to do with its aging problem, especially when people die. The company just unveiled a new service that allows someone to curate your Facebook page when you die or, just as important, to let your whole account return to virtual dust.

Get ready to change your will.

Not only do you need to know who to leave your house to, but who is going to run your Facebook account. If you set this up with Facebook, your selected buddy to the end will get to memorialize you with tribute status updates, post new pictures in tribute, and even accept new friend requests from people who didn't like you enough when you were alive to friend you, but somehow decided it was OK when you were dead.

Truthfully, I'm guessing most people were already doing this on their own by using the credentials of their loved ones to maintain pages. This will allow you to select someone to be the caretaker (undertaker?) of your page, but the person won't get to see your private messages from when you were alive.

But the permanent deletion is actually more interesting in a way, because for the first time Facebook is admitting some of its dead accounts, might actually be dead accounts. Imagine if Facebook survives another 50 or 100 years. It is possible more Facebook accounts could have belonged to the dearly departed than the living large. In fact, people joke that’s already happened.

We'll see what happens, but my guess is people will run memorial pages for a year or two, and then quietly delete pages. Continuing to man them forever creates an awkward obligation for people who may or may not even be running their own Facebook accounts anymore.

But just in case, let's consider some potential questions:

  • If I die, and I want to be immortalized forever in Facebook glory, do I count toward the membership numbers? Does Facebook make advertising money on me forever?
  • Will Facebook run ads for tombstones, caskets, and flowers on my page when I die?
  • Can I set it up so certain "likes" disappear when I die? I mean, it was one thing when I "liked" Justin Bieber when I was alive. But do I really want people judging me when I'm dead?
  • What happens if my executor dies, too? Can he or she pass it on? Can I have 10 generations of my family running my Facebook page for me, so I can make sure everyone remembers two hundred years from now that I once watched How I Met Your Mother?
  • What happens when my executor goes through the "anger" stage of grief? Can we get a "clean restore point" for my page in case that individual defaces it?

The mind reels.

There is an interesting side note to this. Right now, we look at those stupid lunch pictures and selfies as social media annoyances. What happens in 25, 50, or 100 years if Facebook memorial pages still exist? They actually do become beautiful treasure troves of how American life was once lived, an archive for what it was like when grandma and grandpa died in the days before Instagram.

[Are these workplace "time-wasters" really wasting time?]

The only problem I see with this whole idea is that, as the Facebook crowd continues to age and die, I don't want to watch Facebook become The Walking Dead, where a newsfeed is full of zombie posts from dead friends posted by relatives -- a lurching, grunting news feed full of how their loved ones enjoyed Barney Miller reruns.

What do you think? Delete or memorialize? Virtual gravestone or ashes to cyber ashes? Would you visit a dead friend's page? Tell me in the comments.

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