The Afterlife: Courtesy of Facebook

Last year, a friend of mine went through one of those phases in life when there is a class reunion and a bunch of people from a bunch of years ago reconnect. The Facebook “Friend Requests” were flying afterward and he reconnected with dozens and dozens of old friends.

He saw a post recently from an ex-girlfriend from high school. Reminded of her, he sent her a message that only a former flame might send to a Facebook friend, but she didn’t reply.

Days later, he saw some of their mutual hometown friends and mentioned to them, “hey, I messaged Maria on Facebook, but she didn’t reply. Do you think she’s mad at me?”

And they said, “Dude, she dead. She died in January.”

“What the hell…?” he asked, horrified. “Then why does she have an active Facebook wall??”

“Well that’s her old account,” someone said, “but her daughter keeps it going in her memory.”

My friend was mortified. Not only did he send a message to a deceased ex-girlfriend only to learn of her death afterward, but her daughter was the one to receive the message!

Yea, this could have been handled better.

Facebook has a mechanism for Memorializing walls of people after they pass.

After formal notification by a family member or friend, Facebook will take the person’s wall down or “Memorialize” it by taking it out of the public search results, seal it from any future log-in attempts, but leave the wall open for family and friends “to pay their respects.”

It’s not a new feature – TIME magazine wrote about it in 2009, citing a statement by  Facebook indicating that it has had this policy in place since its inception.

And according to the Washington Post, there are an estimated 30 million Facebook accounts belonging to dead people and the nonpartisan Uniform Law Commission is drafting model legislation to deal with fiduciary access to digital assets following a death. The push for this legislation came about after the suicide of Virginia teen Eric Rash in January 2011, which caused his parents to seek access to his online accounts.

“Any parent in this situation would want to find answers,” said Del. David L. Bulova (D-Fairfax), a co-sponsor of the draft federal legislation. “This is the 2013 equivalent of what you would store under your bed. Today, we store it on a server.” (Washington Post)

But until such legislation is passed, do most people know how to deal with the Facebook pages of a lost loved one? Or where to find the information about it? Maybe not.

If you’re interested in this feature of Facebook, you can find it through Facebook’s “Help” section or through Facebook’s “About” page under “Privacy,” “Other.”

You may not have had the misfortune of sending a message to a deceased ex, but many people have received a Birthday Reminder or Friend Suggestion from Facebook about someone who they know has died. It’s part of the digital landscape now – dealing with death in the online world.

Consider letting your family know how you’d like your online accounts handled when you pass. It’s a digital-age-complication in estate planning… what is to become of your online persona after you die?

About Wendy L. Goldstein

A career communications professional with a deep interest in communications theory, traditional communication, social media and emerging communications technologies, Wendy L. Goldstein offers public relations, marketing and business communication services through WLG Communication, www.wlgcommunication.com.
This entry was posted in Communication, Death, digital persona, Facebook, final wishes, Social Media and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Afterlife: Courtesy of Facebook

  1. Sally Mullaney says:

    It took me years to delete my sister’s email address after she passed. Actually, I’m not really sure I ever did – I’ll have to check. I just didn’t have the heart to do it. It seemed too final.

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