The Ghosts of Users Past

July 25, 2010 • Digital News, Ethics and Quality • by

In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.

The cyberworld, it seems, is condemned to the same ineludible limitations. Facebook users are dying.  So are Twitterers, MySpacers, Flickrers and Tumblrers. But as social media users eventually pass on to the great unknown, what are companies to do with carefully crafted online personas and profiles? Facebook, as explained in a recent NYT article written by Jenna Wortham, occasionally suggests users “reconnect” with deceased friends and relatives who’ve created accounts. This is, for lack of gentler terms, totally creeping people out.

Yet with users over 65 converting to Facebook at a greater pace than any other age group, the issue of cyber life-after-death will surely become more pressing. According to the NYT article, Facebook’s original strategy was to simply delete profiles of anyone it learned had died.  Now, to memorialize a profile, Facebook requests that a friend or family member of the deceased fill out a form to provide proof of the death (an obituary notice, for example) which will then be reviewed by a Facebook employee. This method, as several have already discovered, is hardly foolproof. The next great challenge for social media, perhaps, is to devise a graceful strategy for cyber death.

Read more at NYTimes.

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