Last week, as part of a project I’m doing here on campus, I had to reach out to a number of MacEwan students through Facebook in order to share some event details with them. What I was surprised to learn, was that many students at our school had died over the last week. Their Facebook accounts, at the behest of their next of kin, had been changed into memorial accounts, so that their memories could be honoured forever. Even our own @danielsalebcsc had met his premature end since I saw him last. Rest in peace Daniel.
Of course, Daniel isn’t actually dead (or at least I hope he isn’t). The Facebook programmers had just introduced a tragically hilarious glitch into the social media platform’s coding which listed enormous numbers of its users as deceased.
Allegedly, the memorial system has been around for a few years, but this is the first I’d heard of it. It’s an interesting take on the idea of digital rights, and what happens to those rights after the user dies. I don’t think I’d like my Facebook page to continue on after death, because (hopefully) by the time I do pass, I’ll have more of a lasting legacy than a collection of memes.
It is something to take seriously though, as it affects how you are remembered after death. Many people are writing their login information into their wills with directions with what to do with the account after they pass. My mom’s cousin passed away about a year and a half ago, and she explicitly wanted her Facebook page to stay active, and wouldn’t tell anyone her password. Everyone respected her wishes, but now my mom gets notifications that her deceased cousin wants to play Farmville with her from beyond the grave. Some members of my (very Christian) family see this as a nice reminder that she is still watching over us, while others, like my mom, find it to be a depressing daily reminder of their own mortality. She could block the account, but in her opinion, that isn’t very respectful of the dead.
The memorial setting (once it starts working properly) allegedly solves this controversy, by shutting down the ability for the dead to send notifications to the living. It is essentially a “read only” version of the page.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think I’m still going to leave instructions for my family to delete my account after I die. I want the ability to take my garbage meme collection with me into the great unknown.