Resting in Peace, Facebook-style

Following on from a recent series of posts on Facebook memorialisation, Nicola Wright asks the tough questions – what would you like to see happen to your Facebook account after you’re gone? A useful look at things to consider when planning a digital afterlife…

Have you ever had the experience of seeing the Facebook profile of somebody who has died popping up on your home page with a message asking you to reconnect with that person? Or perhaps it was an item in your newsfeed proclaiming that such-and-such likes a certain page? It is precisely these kinds of dissonant experiences that led to Facebook changing their policy on deceased user accounts to allow for memorialisation of Facebook profiles. By memorialising a profile, it is changed so that it no longer appears in community or interaction suggestions and only existing friends can search for and interact with the profile. The bereaved also have the option to delete the profile completely if that is what they would prefer to do, so problem solved right?

Not exactly.  Although memorialisation of deceased user profiles of Facebook is hugely popular – approximately 3 million were estimated to exist at the end of 2012 – they have the potential to create further hurt and pain for friends and family due to a number of factors. Who for example has the authority to make the decision about whether or not a profile is memorialised or deleted completely? If the deceased person was married then perhaps it would be their spouse? What if the decision they make is upsetting to other family members – do they have recourse to take action against the decisions? Presumably Facebook assume the executor of the estate has the final say based on the documentation they ask for when an account is memorialised, but what if there is no official executor?

Once an account has been memorialised, the bereaved are then faced with the task of ‘impression management’, that is, ensuring that comments posted on the profile aren’t offensive, insensitive or even overly morose or sentimental. Such a task can seem like a burden for some people and decisions about which comments are appropriate, for example, are based on subjective perceptions about what is being said and by whom. Furthermore, the person in charge of impression management of the profile has no ability to clean up the profile in any way beyond moderating comments posted to the wall.

How do you feel about your Facebook profile being memorialised after you die? Or would you want it deleted completely? If your profile is memorialised whom would you want ‘in charge’ of what comments were deemed to be acceptable? If you died tomorrow is there anything on your profile that you wish wasn’t there and that you wouldn’t want as part of your online memorial? For the sake of those left behind, you may want to start think about making your preferences known.

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Nicola Wright is an e-commerce businesswoman and blogs at http://nicolawright.com and http://worryfreelife.net.

Comments

  1. Nicola Wright says:

    Reblogged this on nicolawrightdotcom and commented:
    Here is a guest blog post I did for Emily Baxter at awayforabit.com

    Emily kindly allowed me to cite her in a paper I wrote on #digitaldeath and then asked me if I would write a blog post touching on the topic of Facebook profile memorialisation. In other news, my paper was accepted for publication by First Monday in their June 2014 edition. Stay tune for a link!

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