Living Online After Death Faces Nebraska Legal Battle
BBC News (January 31, 2012)
WNYC’s On the Media radio program dedicated this entire week’s show to Facebook and its users. Per usual, it was an excellent set of stories. I was a little surprised, however, that the program didn’t discuss what happens when Facebook users die.
So let me pick-up that storyline.
Let’s roll out some numbers. The current number of Facebook users is somewhere near 845 million. The rough annual mortality rate across the planet is 8.37 deaths per 1000 individuals (this number is gleaned from the CIA World Factbook on global mortality statistics and is far from exact, so we’re dealing in broad approximations). After doing a little math, this means that over 7 million Facebook users die each year. Divide that by 365 days and you’re looking at over 19,000 Facebook users dying every day.
By comparison, 1500 people die every day across England, Scotland and Wales. In America, over 6,000 people die a day. I could go on and on.
I was already thinking this week about death and Facebook since a handful of American states are either drafting legislation to enable next-of-kin access to social media accounts, and/or the laws have already been enacted. The BBC story at the top of the page discusses proposed legislation in Nebraska. You can see short summaries of both proposed and passed legislation here and here.
Facebook anticipated this situation a few years ago and the Death Reference Desk has been covering this situation since day one. You can see of all our posts on Facebook and Death here.
In 2009 (October 26, 2009 at 4:48pm to be exact) Facebook announced that it was now using something called Memorialization Mode for dead account holders. This Facebook blog post, Memories of Friends Departed Endure on Facebook by Max Kelly, explained how Memorialization Mode worked. Here are the key sections from the post:
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.
So when Facebook is notified of someone’s death via the Report a Deceased Person’s Profile page then the account will be changed.
Now, I’ve never had to report a deceased person’s account (which is nice) so I don’t have any direct experience with how it works. I also can’t tell if Facebook has modified what happens to dead user accounts since the initial 2009 announcement.
Here’s the rub — at some point Facebook will require an entire department dedicated to User Mortality. At approximately 19,000 deaths a day, the situation can only be left to its own devices for so long.
If for any reason, to prevent false death notifications like this one.
Indeed, what Facebook needs is a Senior Vice President for User Mortality Affairs and the DRD Team is more than happy to take on that job, should FB’s headhunters be tooling around the Death Reference Desk.
But until that job offer arrives, we at Death Ref will continue to track how over 7 million deceased Facebook accounts are turned into ad hoc digital memorials.