Gray Questions Deceased Social Profiles

July 4, 2010 · Posted in Policies 

Silicon Valley tech blogger Louis Gray recently asked on his blog: Should Social Profiles Live on When People Die?

He’s questioning why it’s not easier to report that a Facebook user has passed away. Louis must have missed that day last October when Facebook blogged about the ability to memorialize accounts. I don’t blame him – it was easy to miss. Although Facebook had this feature in place and working long before this announcement (my sources say it came about after the Virinia Tech shootings in April 2007) they haven’t gone out of their way to promote it.

I have heard many complaints from people who’ve encountered exactly the scenario that Louis recounts, and likely you have too: the features that Facebook uses to encourage activity among its members will include deceased friends. Whether you’re asked to “reconnect with” someone by writing on their wall,  to help them “find new friends”, or to “keep in touch” by sending them a message, these prompts can be a distressing and emotional reminder of the death of a friend. These feelings are worsened because the automated reminders are tinged with guilt by putting the onus on the reader to do more, when clearly, there’s nothing more to be done.

When a Facebook account is memorialized, the deceased friend’s profile is no longer included in these prompts.

Louis Gray goes on to say:

Either way, the way we just leave things hanging in a position of suspended animation doesn’t work for me. If social networks are to celebrate births, celebrate life’s milestones and mark bad news as well, they should be ready for the final passage to whatever’s next.

It’s great that more people from the valley are starting to write about and question this incongruous aspect of social networks. It is a central part of how I feel about the state of online services policies (or lack thereof) and I felt compelled to comment on the post:

Actually, Facebook is one of the few social networks to have some semblance of a policy. Most other networks have no policy on death, though they might on “inactive” accounts. Email accounts have better policies around accessing a loved one’s data, but they’ll never hand over control of the account to the family.

I’ve been researching and speaking on this topic for 18 months. There is a disconnect between online services’ policies and the realities of life. Building online businesses is about using your resources toward growth and acquisition of new users to drive revenue. Having resources dedicated to termination of accounts and verification of a person’s alive/deceased status is not a top priority because it doesn’t produce revenue.

And let’s face it, most online services, especially free ones, are not known for providing individualized customer service. They just don’t have the staff. (Facebook has almost 500 million users and just 500 staff.)

Thanks for writing on this important issue. I’m glad to see more people giving it some thought. If you’re interested in knowing more, you can check out my blog on the topic:

How about you? Have you encountered a situation on Facebook, or elsewhere, that was inconsiderate about whether a friend was alive or deceased? How did it make you feel and did you do anything about it?


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