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Status: Deceased (Or, How To Haunt Someone Through Facebook)

Illustration for article titled Status: Deceased (Or, How To Haunt Someone Through Facebook)

On Facebook, even dead people never die.

Given the youth of most of its user-demographic, death probably isn't something Facebook has really had to deal with. But as the Times' Michelle Slatalla discovers, it can haunt those left behind. Someone might be dead and mourned,

...but on Facebook, people live on — indefinitely — because the profiles of dead users are not routinely deleted. The company confers “memorial” status on deceased users’ accounts, having learned after the Virginia Tech shootings that many survivors want to grieve online by, say, posting goodbye messages on the walls of deceased Facebook users.

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Slatalla's friend Steve, never much of a Facebook user, inserts himself into her life through birthday notifications and his smiling picture long after his death from cancer. Because, unless you take special steps, requesting that Facebook delete an account (probably not any bereaved person's highest priority) there's no "death" status that suddenly goes into effect. Says an FB rep, "'Many people who have somebody they’re still mourning find it very comforting and feel it keeps them connected to a loved one.'”

In a way, it makes a certain kind of sense. To a large degree, Facebook acts as a sort of second memory, keeping you vaguely aware of people from your dim past and abreast of far-away friends. It certainly aids in remembering quotidian things - birthdays, spouse names, current jobs - and, for good or ill, keeps you uniquely connected to the past. While, undeniably, there's something a little macabre about an abandoned Facebook page - and something very lonely about an unvisited one - a well-visited, tended profile with regular pokes and messages could become a sort of cut-rate 21st century mausoleum, and there are worse things.

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Friends To The End And Beyond [NY Times]

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DISCUSSION

professor-k-old
Professor K

My best friend of 16 years committed suicide eight months ago. In the months since, I have struggled with his digital existence every day. He's still in my phone, still on my skype, aim, in my email contacts and on facebook we are still listed as married. Every time I log on I wonder when I should "cancel the relationship". I already have enough guilt over loosing him, I don't know if I can ever do that.

I know how much he meant to me. Facebook doesn't have to tell me that. But I do constantly question if I meant that much to him. I know that the reality is that we had been friends since 4th grade. That we had grown up together. I was the first person he came out to. I told him about my first crush. We got into trouble in high school together. We lived together through college and had more experiences than I can even remember. Even as he began his life half way around the world, we were always in each others hearts. Part of me knows this truth. But since his death there is this creeping doubt in my heart. He was my best friend, but maybe I wasn't his. Maybe I was just another friend and nothing more. Maybe I just didn't mean that much to him. As hard as it is to see it, that physical proof of our friendship is all I have left to show the world that I meant something to him. And, even though its a little selfish, I need the world to know that.