En español | Facebook already dominates our living days; now it’s muscling in on our afterlives. With the platform’s drawing nearly 2 billion active users worldwide, it’s inevitable that many of them are passing away and leaving behind ghost profiles. By some estimates, as many as 8,000 Facebook users die every day. So what happens to their profiles when they do?
There are three possibilities. First, nothing. Unless someone says something, Facebook assumes the user is still out there and the profile remains active indefinitely. Second, the profile is removed at the request of a verified family member, and all traces of the individual — photos, messages, timeline posts, everything — are permanently wiped from the company’s servers. That same verified family member can request that content such as photographs associated with the profile be downloaded and saved before the profile is deleted.
Starting in 2009, Facebook began offering a third option: “memorializing” the profile. At the request of a friend or family member, the word “remembering” is added in front of the user’s name, and the profile then serves as a digital tombstone of sorts, where loved ones can openly grieve or share memories of the deceased.
So which option is best? When deciding, consider these five things.
Planning Ahead Can Prevent After-the-Fact Problems
Facebook formally recognizes what it calls “legacy contacts,” a digital executor the person names before passing away. Legacy contacts can manage the memorialized account of a deceased person but cannot read past messages or change old posts. What they can do is write a final message to be displayed at the top of the memorialized page, approve new friend requests for the page and change the cover and profile photos.
If You Don’t Memorialize It, Someone Else Might
Facebook allows pretty much anyone (family or friend of a deceased person) to request that a page be memorialized. All a person has to do is ask via a form on the website. A name, approximate date of death and proof in the form of an online obituary or death certificate are all that’s required. Once that account has been memorialized and locked, no one will be able to log in and make changes unless a legacy contact was named before the user died. Even if someone has a password, he or she will not be able to log in to the account.
There’s No Going Back Once a Profile Has Been Memorialized
Once someone’s profile has been designated as a memorial, the friends and family will be allowed to see it, but it will not show up in searches and notifications. Facebook is very clear that once a page is memorialized, there is no going back. The page and all its content cannot be altered in any way — except by a designated legacy contact — or reverted back to a regular profile.
Beware of Trolls: Even Family Members Have No Control Over Memorialized Profiles
Again, unless a legacy contact was in place, anyone who was friends with the deceased will be able to post messages on the timeline of a memorialized profile. That includes fair-weather friends who may have fallen out with your loved one along the way. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would, but online trolls could conceivably post unwarranted messages about the deceased and those posts would remain there for all the world to see indefinitely.
If You Don’t Memorialize the Profile, Expect Constant, Sometimes-Painful Reminders
Profiles that aren’t removed or memorialized remain active on Facebook forever. That means the profile could continue to show up in searches, people-you-may-know suggestions, ads, and those all-too-frequent birthday reminders. If friends and family don’t want to be reminded constantly that you are gone, your page should be locked down or removed entirely.