What Happens (Online) When We Die: Facebook

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One day, you're going to die. And when you do, you online presence—like your social network profiles, your blog comments, and your web services—will serve as your very first memorial. Here's how it'll play out.

More than any other service, Facebook will be the most important fixture in your digital mausoleum. I mean, it's a basically a catch-all for your memories, with timestamped comments, loads of personal info, and pictures. (Oh dear god, the pictures...) It's the first place acquaintances look after someone dies, and the first place the press will look if your death was particularly public or tragic.

And Facebook knows this. They've got a healthy help section for the bereaved, which lays out what how one can deal with a dead profile. Here are the options:

Report an account to be memorialized: Accounts can be turned into digital insta-memorials. This is a service Facebook actually offers:

Please report this information... so that we can memorialize this person's account. Memorializing the account removes certain more sensitive information like status updates and restricts profile access to confirmed friends only.


This is a safe option, since it gives the deceased a certain degree of privacy, without eliminating their memory forever. As depressing as it may sound, there's a form you can fill out for this.

Take the account down: From the memorialization FAQ:

We do honor requests from close family members to close the account completely.

If you make a special request (again through the form) you can have the account removed completely. You've pretty much gotta be someone's parent or spouse for this one, though.


Sue for access: Need to see your family member's Facebook profile, for closure? This treads well into some gray area, but it turns out, you can sort of do this. Sometimes. From Legacy Locker:

If your family is intent on gaining access to your Facebook account, they'll have to resort to legal action against Facebook. Not surprisingly, this is becoming increasingly more common...

The deceased was a young adult who had been hit by a drunk driver while on his motorcycle. The mother was aware that her son was a prolific Facebook user and wanted access as part of the grieving process. She wanted the ability to communicate with his friends and maintain the connection to her son. His virtual self was one of the key things she had left to remember him by.


The woman had access to her son's account, and it was only when Facebook realized the boy was dead that they revoked it. She sued to get it back, and eventually:

Facebook provided the parents an electronic snapshot of their son's Facebook page to see everything contained within it. This included all messages, wall postings and photographs. Facebook also permitted ongoing access to the public portion of the page. This is akin to the view that any "friend" would have of the page.


It's not a click-box choice, but it's an option.

Leave your login info behind: Write yourself a will, of sorts! Entrust a family member or spouse with your login info and instruction as to what to do with your profile. It might make for an awkward conversation now, but it'll be worth it.


So, that's what could happen to your profile after you've passed on, or, what you can do if a friend or family member has done the same. Any more info, or experience? Let everyone know in the comments.

Memory [Forever] is our week-long consideration of what it really means when our memories, encoded in bits, flow in a million directions, and might truly live forever.