What more is to be said about Facebook? Everyone has their own opinion of the social media giant. While some refuse to ever sign up, others have praised it to be the single most life-changing invention of the 21st century. How can anyone deny this fact when almost ⅕ of the world’s population has a Facebook profile? But did you ever consider this that Facebook users are an aging population and eventually today's Facebook profiles will be part of a digital graveyard? In fact, by 2065 it is estimated that the amount of deceased users will outnumber the living.
Welcome to Facebook: the world’s largest digital graveyard.
Facebook: The World’s Largest Digital Graveyard
It is no secret that death is an uncomfortable subject. As such, the intersection between death and social media is a sensitive one. We avoid discussing death until it is at our doorstep. Yet, when we become face to face with it, it consumes us. As hard as it may be, it is worth discussing the postmortem processes while you and your loved ones are able to make important decisions. In today's digital age, this conversation should not be limited to funerals arrangements- one’s postmortem social media presence is becoming an ever important discussion.
In 2009 Facebook had finally recognized their departed users by introducing the “Memorial Profile”. This may sound progressive, but it did not solve the problem. This addition to Facebook came only after numerous complaints from unpleased individuals who were insensitively asked to wish Happy Birthday to their deceased loved ones.
The Facebook Memorial Profile is simply a conversion of the individual’s original portfolio with these important modifications:
- The account cannot be logged into anymore and, as such, it cannot be modified whatsoever. It is basically a screenshot of the person right before they died.
- These accounts cannot be seen in public areas (i.e. birthday suggestions and "People You May Know" recommendations
The Memorial Profile does not however let you curate, monitor or share memories of your departed loved ones.
Other social media sites opt to handle death differently, generally deleting inactive profiles after a certain period of time. Some allow the families of the deceased to take control of their profiles or delete them all together with the proof of an official death certificate. However none of the social media giants show enough sensitivity towards the Death of its users and the pain it can cause those left behind.
The Issue at Hand
I would like to get a little personal to explain a huge issue that hit me close to home. I had a good friend who passed away early one morning in an accident after a long debaucherous night of drinking and partying. Just a few hours earlier, this friend had also posted images on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, taken during the party. The link between the dreaded news of my friend’s death and the images posted hit like a brick to the gut. In genuine social media tradition, the RIP messages began to roll in, posted on to my friend’s profile as if he was still around to actually read them. However, not one single person asked what had happened, because they all already knew. And even today, if you scroll down on his profile, the photo is still there from that night as a morbid reminder.
As a family member in the situation I described above, you are left with three decisions: you can leave the profile as is, in all of its glory, convert it into a memorial profile, limiting the people that might see it, or ask Facebook to delete the profile entirely and hope they come through.
The Benefit of an Online Memorial
An online memorial is extremely beneficial if done right. While a traditional funeral and any other type of burial certainly provides families immediate support after a loss, an online memorial makes the memories of loved ones more accessible and everlasting. The ability to socialize with those who cared most for the departed has the potential to create a truly positive support group. The grieving process can be aided by words of encouragement and memories of the departed shared amongst friends and family. The online realm also breaks barriers of time and space, letting families send their messages from around the world.
There are alternatives to Facebook of course. With regards to memorials, Qeepr.com lets families create beautiful homages to their loved one's life story, by uploading photos, videos, a family tree and even a space for condolences. Unlike the limitations of a Facebook Memorial due to their legal privacy obligations, users are able to maintain complete control of their loved ones profiles.
On Facebook, users are left with such limited control after their loved ones pass away. My friend's family, stuck in the bind of leaving that provocative photo public, or deleting the profile altogether decided on the former. And thus, I was left with a truly bitter taste in my mouth after browsing his Facebook Memorial. Thankfully, I was also comforted in knowing that so many people were as affected as I was and left supportive messages. It's evident that social media is present throughout all of life's moments - it can make the good seem even better, and the bad, even worse.
Are these statistics shocking to you?
Do you have any stories about death and social media?