I was about to leave the house when Koby, a Facebook friend of both my brother Tal and mine, sent me a startled message:
Koby Shabaty: “Has someone hacked Tal’s Facebook profile?????”
Of course all other plans were forgotten and I hurried to Tal’s Timeline (his wall) on Facebook. I looked for any signs of vandalizing and found none, much to my relief. I asked Koby what it was that alarmed him.
Koby Shabaty: “I saw he Liked something… I was a bit shocked”.
Fortunately, READWRITE, a technology blog, had a post titled Why Are Dead People Liking Stuff On Facebook which I bumped into not a week earlier, otherwise I have no idea how I’d have reacted to Koby’s screenshot:
Screenshot of a page being liked by my brother
Koby Shabaty: “Totally surreal, sadly there is no date indication”.
That does look like Tal Liked something after his death.
The Facebook spokesman has an explanation: Those are past Likes that Facebook recycles and posts again. Not unlike Readwrite in this post, I admit I find this explanation not entirely credible, or at least not the only explanation. This page, liked by Tal, was indeed created before Tal had died – had it been created after his death it would have been a solid proof – and I have no way of knowing for sure, but I suspect there’s a different reason.
Statistics claim that three Facebook users die every minute.
From a clip by ‘Life Insurance Finder’, an Australian company, produced 2012
Tzach Ben-Yehuda, a lawyer-sociologist whose thesis dealt with anonymity in the web, told me once: “You can’t sell ads to dead people’s profiles on Facebook”, but it’s probably possible to fake their Likes. I don’t know whether it’s a bug or a deliberate malicious act, but I suspect there’s something in Facebook drawing Likes out of profiles.
The next case shows it’s indeed a past Like that’s been brought back, and here’s the reaction of a woman who ran into it – a friend of the deceased:
The Facebook spokesman said that, had the profile been defined as a Memorial profile, this would not have happened; no past Like would be re-used.
Once a user died, there are three options:
A family member contacts Facebook and asks for the profile to be deleted (this is only allowed for family members);
Someone (anyone) reports to Facebook that the user has passed away, which will result in the profile changing to a Memorial profile (as far as Facebook is concerned, no personal relation to the deceased is required, nor should the user’s family be contacted or consulted with);
Nobody informs Facebook that the user no longer lives, and their profile goes on functioning as usual.
When choosing the latter option, Facebook is unaware of the user no longer being alive, and so treats them as usual – including suggesting the user as a friend for other users, or as a potential guest for their events – as happened to me, when Facebook suggested I invite two of my relatives to an event – and my deceased brother.
This hurts, but for me – and this is a personal preference and there are no rights or wrongs in this matter – this is a price worth paying for the profile not turning into a Memorial profile.
On January 2013 Huffington Post published an article titled Death On Facebook Now Common As ‘Death Profiles’ Create Vast Virtual Cemetery, introducing a person who was displeased by a deceased distant friend’s profile remaining untouched:
The comments to those photos contain correspondence between Rohan and Lalit, when the latter was still alive.
Aurora finds Facebook’s constant reminding him of his dead friend disturbing. This might have to do with him being young, or with the fact him and the deceased were not very close – but at any case, he feels uncomfortable with said distant friend’s profile not having become a Memorial profile. For others however, this Facebook presence of the deceased is far from disturbing; it is very welcome.
On April 27th, 2013, I was interviewed for a TV program in Channel 10. Healla Green, Alan Green’s wife, was interviewed to it as well. Her Facebook profile is named A.W – Alan’s Wife – and only after that does her own name appear, Healla Green. In the TV broadcast she tells how connected she felt to her husband’s profile after he had died, and how hard it was for her when Facebook changed it to a Memorial profile (it seems that for her the profile had simply vanished, but from her description I can guess that’s what happened to it). Facebook profiles aren’t deleted unless a family member requests them to be so, and even then it’s never immediate, as shown later in this post. However, since anyone can report anyone as dead – BuzzFeed have already proved this is hardly a challenge in this article, How Almost Anyone Can Take You Off Facebook (And Lock You Out) – I suspect this is what happened; someone was uncomfortable with Alan’s profile still giving the impression that Alan was alive, reported to Facebook of Alan’s death without discussing it with Alan’s wife first – and Healla, the wife, found herself locked out of her husband’s account, seeing as Facebook doesn’t require a family member’s permission to change a profile to Memorial. As Healla put it:
When a profile changes to a Memorial profile it can no longer be found through search engines, friends of friends can no longer view it – only those who are friends already – some of the content is deleted (the choice of what is removed and what remains is Facebook’s) and the account is no longer accessible, even if you have the password.
As explained and recommended in my technical guide, if you have access to the deceased’s Facebook account you should first backup its entire content, seeing as it can become a Memorial profile at any moment and you will no longer be allowed access to it. Following Healla’s case I also recommend to friend-request the deceased with your own Facebook account (open one if you don’t have one already) and approve it from theirs as long as you have access to it – and this way, at least, you will be able to view it even if it’s changed to a Memorial profile. Had Healla read the technical guide at the time, she might have not had to deal with this aspect of the pain, at least.
On April 2013 a Brazil judge ordered Facebook to remove, immediately, the profile of 24 years old deceased Juliana Ribeiro Campos, following her mother’s request. The mother says:
The mother had requested Facebook to remove the profile several times over a few months, and then took legal action.
As we can see, the deceased’s Facebook profile can be as much a source of great comfort as it can be distressing, and that the combination of Facebook and death has many varied aspects. I will review those in my next post in this series.