Death on Facebook

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I am writing this one day after learning that a friend from high school took his life. I am tabling this post for a bit to let emotions settle. You see, “Jeff’s” (not his real name) death broke on social media.

The word quickly spread among his friends. I heard about it on Twitter and then through messages on Facebook. People started posting pictures they had of Jeff on his page. I did it too. They started telling stories, the things they loved about him, and their favorite memories. There were songs, and tributes posted. Friends of friends expressed their sorrow for our loss. Jeff’s favorite songs and music from 80s when we were all in high school.

The problem was it was all happening so fast, that Jeff’s family had not even been notified that he was dead.

Then the backlash started:

THINK before you post things, especially private things. You are not a TMZ reporter.

Wishes well meaning people would think before they post shit all over Facebook.

Nice way to combine tact with common sense, people. Contrary to popular belief, his family had NOT been notified and this is essentially how they found out. This might be the digital age, but you should consider that bad news travels by actual word of mouth…not FB. His body wasn’t even cold before you all began with your self-centered yearbook dedication style posts. Do you assholes think he is in some cosmic Internet cafe reading this shit and smiling fondly?

I should say, I was probably one of those assholes posting shorting after getting the news. The anger is understandable. The family should be notified first. I apologize to anyone for whom my posts caused distress.

Speaking only for myself, here is what I would like when I die:

For many of us, the comments on FB will be our eulogy and memorial. When I go, feel free to comment. Speak my death. Tell the good. Tell the bad. Just tell it. Let people draw close and know me better. If possible, make my account fully public so people I’ve touched professionally can comment as well.

When my time comes, don’t fight over embarrassing stories or pictures. It’s fine. There will be truth, there will be lies, omissions and misunderstandings. Stains and holes in the tapestry. It’s fine. Don’t pull apart of this.

My wife knows I love her. The kids know I love them. Don’t second guess. Don’t edit because of the kids. I don’t want to die a paragon, because I am not one. The only thing I can hope for is to be understood and remembered. Editing lessons both.

Facebook’s Policy on Accounts of the Deceased

In October 26, 2009, Facebook blogged it’s policy on what will happen to the accounts of the deceased in post titled, Memories of Friends Departed Endure on Facebook:

We understand how difficult it can be for people to be reminded of those who are no longer with them, which is why it’s important when someone passes away that their friends or family contact Facebook to request that a profile be memorialized. For instance, just last week, we introduced new types of Suggestions that appear on the right-hand side of the home page and remind people to take actions with friends who need help on Facebook. By memorializing the account of someone who has passed away, people will no longer see that person appear in their Suggestions.

When an account is memorialized, we also set privacy so that only confirmed friends can see the profile or locate it in search. We try to protect the deceased’s privacy by removing sensitive information such as contact information and status updates. Memorializing an account also prevents anyone from logging into it in the future, while still enabling friends and family to leave posts on the profile Wall in remembrance.

What happens when an account is memorialized is also discussed in the Help Center. Facebook also has several pages addressing what can be done with an account when the user dies:

How do you want Facebook to handle your account once you pass?

Creative Commons License photo credit: SantaRosa OLD SKOOL