hal tweets ·11:28 AM

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Death on Facebook  

Posted by Hal

Here’s an article in the New York Times about how Facebook is struggling to deal with the pages of deceased. They used to delete them. Now family or friends can request to have the page turned into a memorial, frozen in time save for the comments that those who have already been accepted as ‘friends’ can continue to post.

The assumption from Facebook (not questioned by the Times) is that this problem can be solved through technology –  we just need better algorithms more capable of determining when someone has died so that their page can be then locked down with all necessary sensitivity.

As Older Users Join Facebook, Network Grapples With Death - NYTimes.com_1279721167196

But our widespread embrace of Peep Culture suggests that we might want something else: new ways to continue living on through social media after our deaths. Why should the dead not be allowed to have any new ‘friends’ (when, after all, those friends are entirely virtual and illusory anyway?). Why can’t the dead decline to attend events, leave comments on other people’s pages, etc. etc. Why shouldn’t the dead continue to discuss their own wants and needs?

Perhaps in the future we will pay people to continue to maintain our various profiles and blogs after we are gone? (In the Jewish tradition, it is not uncommon to hire a  Yeshiva student to say  the required daily prayers Jewish law requires be said for the dead.) I know, I know, this is getting pretty weird. Nonetheless, the dead have more in common than the living when it comes to their online presence. The dead are disembodied, the dead are virtual, the dead exist only in the bits and bytes of our imaginations. And the dead, like our Facebook profiles, live on forever, long after we are gone.



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When my brother, Andy, died this past January in a plane crash, it took the Ottawa Sun less than a day to find me through Andy’s Facebook page, and to have researched me through my own page and my blog, which is strange because I have very high security settings on my FB page, so how they found my blog is a mystery, never mind me! That felt like a violation. My other brother, Justin, and Andy’s wife and I closed down Andy’s Facebook page within ten minutes after the Ottawa Sun called me. But that also felt strange. What would all his friends on his page make of his FB disappearance? We had not sent out the news yet as it was still so fresh. So, instead of deleting the page permanently, we just took it down temporarily, thinking we’d put it back up to announce his death, which would also be weird because it would sound like it was coming from him. Then, somehow, everyone in the family who is on FB got an invite to a memorial page for Andy. How did they know he’d died? I still don’t understand it. It’s called The Torchlight, I think. I don’t remember. But at first I was grateful and now I feel like it’s invasive, like someone co-opting our own way of memorializing him.

I hate that Andy’s voice is still on his family’s answering machine. It feels like a lie, like a tease, like Andy might just be away on holiday somewhere and might come home, except he won’t. Psych! It makes me have to face this indescribable loss all over again.

Thanks for reminding me to take down his FB page PERMANENTLY. He’s gone. And his memory belongs to those who knew him, not to the public who didn’t. That’s how I feel.

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Emmalene Pruden

This is a subject where there is probably no blanket solution. Some people might prefer that their pages be left up - others not so much.

One thing I do feel is a certainty - for the time being at least - is that no one writing their will and testament will give much notice to the handling of their facebook accounts.

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The Bloggist

Hey, I’m Hal Niedzviecki. I’m a writer/thinker who lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada with my wife and daughter. Up till now I’ve always considered myself a private person. But at the same time I’m fascinated by people who effortlessly open themselves up to the whole world. So I’ve… more...



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