Facebook as a living obituary aka 'goodbye old friend'

Facebook as a living obituary aka 'goodbye old friend'

Summary: Facebook has turned from merely a way to share lives to a way to memorialize those we have lost.


A few weeks ago I got word that an old college friend had passed away quite unexpectedly. A mutual friend notified a group of us, as she learned by visiting his Facebook page that he was gone. None of us were close enough to be notified by the deceased's family, yet we all revered this man as one of the greatest hearts we'd ever met.

I immediately rushed to his Facebook page, which was still there and more active than ever. Friends and family had linked to dedications and obituaries and had been writing messages to him as if he was still here. While we knew that he was an inspiration to many -- a strong man with the most gentle nature -- I was blown away by the amount of people who had come to remember him. It was more moving than I was expecting.

So, after a sobbing phone call to a dear mutual friend, I started thinking about the bigger picture.

There's been a lot written about what happens to our social network presences after we die. As a matter of fact, my friend Adele McAlear has proposed a compelling South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) session on the matter it's so top of mind. But most of the existing discussions I've read circle around what happens to your intellectual property, who manages the accounts, etc. Legalities and technology questions aside, what happens to the online memory?

In the case of Facebook, they were already a step ahead. As a matter of fact Facebook director of security Max Kelly blogged just a couple weeks earlier about Facebook's feature that allows loved ones to report people as deceased so that the profile can stay on a site as a living memorial. Kelly said that the discussion of what to do with profiles postmortem came up after his best friend, a fellow Facebook employee, passed away four years ago.

"When someone leaves us, they don’t leave our memories or our social network," he wrote. "To reflect that reality, we created the idea of 'memorialized' profiles as a place where people can save and share their memories of those who’ve passed."

The wall remains, as do photos, but Facebook removes other sensitive information and also ensures that the profile does not show up in the "suggestions" section of the news feed, and so on. It's just a small form, and it's somewhat hidden on the site, but could make the world of difference to someone wanting to memorialize a dear friend or family member.

What do you think of Facebook as a living memorial?

Topics: Collaboration, Enterprise Software, Legal, Social Enterprise

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  • Kudos to Facebook on a great idea

    I love the idea of a profile turning into a memorial after somebody dies. It gives everyone a place to express what they are feeling about the loss. It gives everyone a place to tell their stories. It let's those who barely knew them find out more about who they were. This is one more way social networking brings people together.

    Very thoughtful, Facebook!
  • This is incredibly creepy

    I must call my lawyer and update my will to ensure that my
    Facebook page will be deleted when I die.
    • In many ways thats a shame.

      It leaves one wondering what could be wrong with someones Facebook account that they can stand the embarrassment of it while they are alive but they dread the thought of it still being looked at by people after they are dead?

      Its like a quandry..."what went wrong here"?

      Intuitively, we usually think of things that people have for only their own use or consumption while they are alive as things they want destroyed if they were to die. A Facebook account is probably the absolute antithesis of something a person has for only their own use or consumption.

      How is it you can stand people to view your Facebook account while you are alive but you "cant live with it" after your dead? (pun intended)
  • Been done on myspace

    For Mitchell Henderson and some very sad people used it as an excuse to flame his parents due to a typo left by a friend.
    Thats actualy the origin of the An hero meme, its a nice idea but as a race we tend to vandalise nice ideas just because we can.
  • RE: Facebook as a living obituary aka 'goodbye old friend'

    Very good article Jen on a subject that is very important, if not a bit spooky for me! Dont think I would want to find out news over facebook to be honest!

    It is funny as I recently came across a book called 'is: The Phenomenon of the Facebook Status' that gives an insight into life in the 21st century via Facebook Statuses and has been receiving fantastic reviews. But it did provide such a feel good factor in me reading all those statuses, but thankfully it didnt touch on this subject!

    For anyone that is interested, it has a website with a Facebook Status Generator that has been getting a huge amount of hits and all the people at my Uni have been loving it.


    Keep up the good work mate, looking forward to reading more of your stuff
  • RE:3rd World Heavy Facebook as a living obituary aka 'goodbye old friend'

    In using facebook. sought out friends from forgein lands & return response rate seems very low. people got onto internet & then gone.

    iPOLICEIS Rough Edge that Takes NO Prisoners.

  • RE: Facebook as a living obituary aka 'goodbye old friend'

    I think that this is a fantastic idea for Facebook to embrace. I have known a couple of people from high school who have died and while I did not feel like I was close enough to attend their funerals, it was nice to be able to write on their memorial groups about how I would miss them. Since graduating university and knowing that a lot of my friends have moved to other countries where our contact is minimal, having these sorts of resources in place is even more important. The only thing that I wonder is how Facebook ensures that the person is in fact deceased. How awful would that be for high school kids to pull that sort of a prank on someone. Also, I wonder how many of my photos would be visible as some of them are limited profile and I am not sure I would want the entire world to remember me by photos of my college drinking days.
  • RE: Facebook as a living obituary aka 'goodbye old friend'

    I too just had a dear friend and co-worker die. His family members were not particularly adept at using social media, although they had profiles on Facebook. I set up a wall post "tell your favorite story about ________" and dozens of stories started pouring in.

    I made that wall post open to the public, and his family soon started checking it out--it was of enormous comfort and joy to the them to read so many funny, loving stories of their son/brother/cousin.

    We eventually moved the conversation over to his FB site where people continue to post pics, links and stories. This has proven to be a wonderful way to keep someone alive and celebrate a life.

    Kudos to Facebook for recognizing a need and understanding that indeed, a person does not leave our social network just because s/he has shuffled off this mortal coil.
  • good idea about facebook

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