Facebook Finally Realizes Its Members Die - InformationWeek

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2/13/2015
09:06 AM
David Wagner
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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.

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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.

(Image: Smalljim via Wikimedia Commons)

(Image: Smalljim via Wikimedia Commons)

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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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
3/2/2015 | 3:17:55 PM
Re: Life is too short
@Joe- The $20 was chosen specifically because there are baby blog sites that let you do the same thing for that price. If youc an do it at a baby blog site, FB can do it.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
3/2/2015 | 12:32:26 AM
Re: Facebook Finally Realizes People Die
To speak of birthday reminders, this is something that has been on my mind lately in relation to this piece.

A friend of mine died a little more than a year ago, just before his birthday.  The only way I found out about it was from FB highlighting brthday posts on his Wall -- which were from friends saying how much they missed him.

I have since stopped notifications on that particular friend.  I don't particularly care for push notifications from Facebook or my extended network on grieving cues on this matter, thank you.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
3/1/2015 | 11:57:02 PM
Re: Life after Facebook
David, Aren't places in nature limited? People have been buring people for thousands of years now. Holograms would be nice. About the virtual memorials I was thinking of Sara P.'s to her mother. Maybe one can also have both, but at some point the one in nature is going to be hard to visit, especially living far away. And who lives in the same place forever these days, anyways? Not many. -Susan
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
3/1/2015 | 2:17:13 AM
Re: Facebook Finally Realizes Its Members Die
I've read tales about people having a heck of a time trying to get their LinkedIn profiles deleted while still alive.  No so sure it'd be easy to get LinkedIn on the delete-the-dead-profile bandwagon.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
3/1/2015 | 2:12:55 AM
Re: Life is too short
You don't get your status updates when you download your Facebook data?

Twitter, at least, now lets you download an entire archive of all of your Tweets.

As for $20...that might not even cover the price of the USB stick!
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/27/2015 | 11:01:48 PM
Re: Facebook Finally Realizes Its Members Die
but isn't it true that they only know you're dead if someone tells them?  

@Glenbren- Yes, but before that there were not very good mechanisms in place for handling it. You could freeze an account. This allows more options.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/27/2015 | 11:00:03 PM
Re: Life after Facebook
@Susan- Seems like some people prefer nature and some people prefer the digital world. Why not offer both, right? Personally, I've been lucky enough not to lose too many family members and the few I've lost are buried far away. So I have no idea what I'll prefer. I hope I have decades to find out. By then, maybe we can all come back as holograms like Tupac. :)
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/27/2015 | 10:57:26 PM
Re: Facebook Finally Realizes People Die
@TerryB- Well, one reason Facebook might want to do it is so they can say for certainty when an account is dead so they stop charging advertisers for it. Or, if they are less virtuous, so they can serve the right ads to it. 

Also, there's the user satisfaction issue. Some people have honestly told me they don't want a Facebook account because they don't want it left when they are dead. Also, they've had issues where someone has died and they've come up in uncomfortable ways for users (birthday reminders, that new year video they did, etc). Maybe by letting people keep tabs, they give a better user experience and it is worth it. 

 
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/27/2015 | 10:53:32 PM
Re: Life after Facebook
@glenbren- I believe that Ancestry.com is owned by the Morman church, one of the few things Facebook probably can't buy. But what a great connection. The two ought to consider a partnership, because they would create a powerful team.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
2/27/2015 | 10:52:05 PM
Re: The final like
@impactnow- Facebook seems to have infinite storage. It amazes me. But they keep literally billions of pictures and video files. I don't know how they do it economically but that seems to be no problem.
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