I see dead people…on Facebook 

Facebook is very good about reminding me of my friends’ birthdays. Its notification feature automatically prompts me to post a birthday greeting, and I can do it without even visiting the friend’s page. All I have to do is type a message in Notification and press “post.” It’s easy. Too easy, as I recently discovered.

Facebook login

Who controls your Facebook account after you die?

I was about to wish happy birthday to someone I hadn’t heard from in a long time. Something made me think to visit her page first, just to see what she was up to. I’m glad I did because she hasn’t been doing much lately. That’s because she’s been dead for over a year. To think that I was about to make some blithe comment about having “a great day” or “hope it’s a good one” left me feeling sheepish but also very relieved that I had caught myself in the nick of time.

It got me to thinking about “seeing dead people” on Facebook. How many are there? Do their pages stay up forever? It’s a creepy thought, I know, but I found out it’s pretty common. In fact, I have at least three Facebook friends who are dead, and I don’t have that many FB friends to begin with!

They may be dead, but their profiles live on—remembrances frozen in time. Visiting their pages is like entering a vault. Everything is the way they left it—before they slipped from the real world into the ether world. You wouldn’t even know they had passed on unless you took the time to study the comments.

Here are a few interesting “facts” about dead people on Facebook, courtesy of a post by Michael Hiscock on The Loop website:

Believe it or not, 30 million Facebook users died in the first eight years of its existence. In fact, 428 of them die every hour, so they’re practically dropping like flies. And every day, these dormant accounts receive friend requests, get tagged in photos, and sometimes, they’re even wished a happy birthday.

Randall Monroe, in his “What If?” blog, takes this to its logical extreme. Monroe speculates that by the year 2065, the dead on Facebook could outnumber the living—assuming FB begins to decline in popularity and loses its market share (like Friendster, for example).

If FB can hold its ground well into the future, the crossover date might not come until 2130 or later, he writes. “Nothing lasts forever,” he observes, “and rapid change has been the norm for anything built on computer technology. The ground is littered with the bones of websites and technologies that seemed like permanent institutions 10 years ago.”

For those worried about what will happen to their Facebook page after they die, there is a way to memorialize your page. You can also request ahead of time that it be taken down. Here is the pertinent section from Facebook’s Help Center:

What will happen to my account if I pass away?

You can tell us in advance whether you’d like to have your account memorialized or permanently deleted from Facebook.

Memorialized Accounts

Memorialized accounts are a place for friends and family to gather and share memories after a person has passed away. Memorialized accounts have the following key features:

  • The word Remembering will be shown next to the person’s name on their profile
  • Depending on the privacy settings of the account, friends can share memories on the memorialized Timeline
  • Content the person shared (ex: photos, posts) stays on Facebook and is visible to the audience it was shared with
  • Memorialized profiles don’t appear in public spaces such as in suggestions for People You May Know, ads or birthday reminders
  • No one can log into a memorialized account
  • Memorialized accounts that don’t have a legacy contact can’t be changed
  • Groups with an admin whose account was memorialized will be able to select new admins
  • Pages with a sole admin whose account was memorialized will be removed from Facebook if we receive a valid request

But what if notifying Facebook prior to your death isn’t (or wasn’t) at the top of your estate-planning to-do list? Family members and friends can contact Facebook and request that your page be memorialized or removed. However, they must be able to demonstrate that you really are dead (submit a death certificate, etc.) and provide some proof of their authority. Also, Facebook will not provide login information for your account.

It’s not just Facebook. You could also live in perpetuity on LinkedIn, Twitter or any number of other social media sites. All of this has spawned discussions about developing policies for handling deaths on social media.

This infographic from WebpageFX gives you some things to ponder. Unless you want to be like Bruce Willis in “The Sixth Sense,” haunting Haley Joel Osment who can “see dead people,” think about your social media legacy. Don’t make us wish you a happy birthday long after you’re gone!

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