When Facebook Users Die

Jul 18, 2010 | 0 comments

There’s a great article in today’s New York Times titled, “As More Facebook Users Die, Ghosts Reach Out to Reconnect,” by Jenna Wortham. It’s all about how the fastest-growing group of users are 65 and older, a group that also has the country’s highest mortality rate, and what’s happening on Facebook as these users die.

While family members or friends can make their loved ones’ pages into memorial profiles, Facebook’s software has a disturbing habit of sending messages or suggesting reconnecting with friends who are dead. Some highlights from the article:

“Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, knows a lot about its roughly 500 million members. Its software is quick to offer helpful nudges about things like imminent birthdays and friends you have not contacted in a while. But the company has had trouble automating the task of figuring out when one of its users has died.

That can lead to some disturbing or just plain weird moments for Facebook users as the site keeps on shuffling a dead friend through its social algorithms.

Facebook says it has been grappling with how to handle the ghosts in its machine but acknowledges that it has not found a good solution.

“It’s a very sensitive topic,” said Meredith Chin, a company spokeswoman, “and, of course, seeing deceased friends pop up can be painful.” Given the site’s size, “and people passing away every day, we’re never going to be perfect at catching it,” she added.”

This New York Times article provides a link to report the death of a Facebook member:

“To memorialize a profile, a family member or friend must fill out a form on the site and provide proof of the death, like a link to an obituary or news article, which a staff member at Facebook will then review.

But this option is not well publicized, so many profiles of dead members never are converted to tribute pages. Those people continue to appear on other members’ pages as friend suggestions, or in features like the “reconnect” box, which has been spooking the living since it was introduced last October.”

Read the whole article here.

A Good Goodbye