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Two International Digital Death Groups I'm a Member Of

In addition to my being an active member in the International community of Digital Death Day since 2012, I was invited to join the Network of Death Online Research in 2014, and I thank Prof. Gotved for the invitation.  


Death in Facebook, Facebook and Death - Part One

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".

Oh. That.

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:

And this might be the biggest problem with financed promotions of Facebook content. I was staring at this item, that nearly made me cry, for long minutes. She had died two months ago. She probably no longer Likes this page; but I suppose the problem is in her profile’s settings. Surely there is a way to let Facebook know the user no longer lives and prevent such mishaps, and still, it makes me sick".

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:

"In August [2012], Rohan Aurora, a 24-year-old biomedical engineering student and technology blogger who attends the University of Southern California, was on Facebook, reading news about friends back home in New Delhi, India. ...One friend from high school, Lalit Mendhe, had a photo posted on his Facebook page of himself in a hospital bed. He didn't look so bad, Aurora thought. "It didn't seem like he was very uncomfortable". So he made a quip on his wall, hoping to cheer up a friend stuck in the hospital, whatever the cause may have been..... Not long after, he got a message in his inbox from another one of Mendhe's friends. Mendhe, 23, had been in a car crash. He died of cardiac arrest and liver failure in that hospital bed.Aurora immediately deleted his comment. They hadn’t been very close, but would meet whenever Aurora was back in India. Facebook had allowed their bond to survive. It's been four months, and while Aurora misses his friend, he doesn't want to think about his death all the time. He says Facebook is forcing him to.One of Facebook's most loved and loathed elements is the "people you may know" feature. Based upon your location, university or workplace and the people one has friended, Facebook employs a formula to suggest users befriend people they "may know," usually friends of friends. Above a link to "add friend," Facebook shows the name and thumbnail photo of the suggested friend."One of my good pictures with Lalit, it came up on Facebook and it asked me to tag and identify this person. It's not good. You are tagging him at the wrong time. When I go through my pictures, I see his comment. I am forced to click on his name and look back," says Aurora. "A Facebook profile is an indication that someone is alive. We need to respect one's privacy".
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:

“I feel he was lost to me for the second time".

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:

"On Christmas Eve many of her 200 friends posted pictures they had taken with her and recalled their memories. She was very charismatic, very popular. I cried for days".
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.

Many thanks to Koby for his attention and caring.

Thank you Aya Shacham-Doman for translating this post.


My Thoughts Regarding Google's Inactive Account Manager Service

In April 2013 Google launched a new service: Inactive Account Manager. I wrote about it here

At the time I only reviewed the service as-is. Now, as I had time to reflect on it, here are my thoughts: 

  • After a person dies, is it possible to contact Google and find out if he or she were registered to this service, as notifications are not sent during setup? 
    • If she or he were registered, is it possible to "speed things up"? - If a person chose to have his/her gmail account passed on to their spouse after several months, can their spouse get their copy of the account even if the allocated time has not yet fully passed?
      Obviously only upon proof of relationship plus death certificate plus access to the email account the deceased has specified for the download plus access to the phone number for a trusted contact the deceased provided, for example. But still - will Google allow it? Or must the spouse wait for the entire timeout period to pass?  
    • If Google do offer this check up, what should the family member do? Send a death certificate along with a query whether the deceased was registered? Is Google allowed to reveal this information? If so, to whom? And under what circumstances? 
    • If Google doesn't offer this check up option, or if the family is unaware of this service so they don't know they ought to look it up, does the family contact Google through "the usual channels" (detailed in the technical guide), only to find out after 3, 6, 9 or 12 months that the deceased had his/her own requests in this matter? Will Google alert them to the deceased’s registration for this service of their own volition?
  • Once you receive the email when the inactive account manager goes into action, is there a way to find out if there are other trusted contacts and/or who they are, and if so, how? (Google allows you to name up to ten trusted contacts when you set this up). 
  • Will Google prompt their users to use this service, like they prompt users from time to time to provide additional phone numbers / email addresses?
    Will they take it to the next level and insist their users use it? Like they insist users click on the "I read and agree to terms of use"? 

As some of you already know, as I express my opinion in this regard whenever I can, this is what I think Google should do: force their users to ponder their digital death and make a decision regarding their digital legacy, as most of them will not deal with it of their own volition, which is a pity. Once a person manages his or digital assets,: 1. His or her wishes will be carried out and 2. His or her loved ones will not have to go through the aches of wondering if they should or shouldn't access the deceased's digital realm, and if so, how. 

As far as I'm concerned, this solution isn't good enough because it doesn't let me choose whether I wish to bequeath my password or not: it decides for me that I can't. 


My lecture: "Memory, Commemoration and Self Commemoration in the Digital Era" is now Available Online

When 'Digital Dust' turned one year old in July 2013, I gave a lecture in Google Campus TLV to mark the occasion. 

First I did a short review of the first year - cause that's what you do on birthdays, you look back and you say thank you

Then I presented the main lecture: "Memory, Commemoration and Self Commemoration in the Digital Era

And then I answered some questions

You can view the entire list of my lectures in English here, and in Hebrew here

Please feel free to schedule a lecture, in either Hebrew or English, by contacting me at: