Death and Social Networks

Losing a friend or family member is painful enough, but imagine when that friend’s social networking profile at Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace continues to appear on your personal wall or in searches.

In the digital age, many of us publish our entire lives through profiles, status updates, networks, photographs, blog posts, etc. With more than a million social networkers dying yearly, family, friends and service providers are stuck trying to figure out how to deal with a deceased user’s digital bits.

As a social networking guru with over 40,000 contacts spread across six social networks, one of them – Barry Epstein, of Boca Raton – advised that he was closing the accounts of his recently departed son. Aware of the “memorial” policies of Facebook, I was prompted to investigate the various social networking policies on deceased users’ accounts and what can be done to preserve, memorialize or delete them following death.


Although not the first to establish a policy for its 500 million users worldwide, Facebook was the highest profile because of the way it addressed the issue. Rather than allowing a family member to take control of an account, Facebook instead decided to take things a step further and allowed them to be memorialized.

This is helpful for two reasons. First, it preserves the deceased user’s online identity so that only confirmed friends can visit their profile to read about them, view photos and leave posts of remembrance.

When Facebook converts an account into a memorial, the deceased user no longer pops up in Facebook’s friend suggestions. Thus we are not constantly reminded of their disappearance. The person’s profile automatically becomes private to everyone but confirmed friends. Personal identifiers and contact information are also removed to respect privacy and prevent hacking.

To establish a Facebook memorial, family or friends fill out a special contact form and provide proof of death such as an Internet link to an obituary or news article. Unlike other social networks, Facebook allows non-family to perform this task, which is helpful in a situation where the deceased user’s friends are more Internet-savvy than family –


Just as Facebook allows users to request an account be deleted or memorialized when a friend or family member has passed on, Twitter users can now request a permanent back-up of the deceased user’s public tweets or a complete account deletion –

Accounts of deceased users will no longer appear in the “Who to Follow” suggestion box and previously scheduled tweets are not published. At present, accounts of deceased users look exactly the same as those of living users and can be followed and listed.

To establish a permanent back-up or to delete a deceased user’s Twitter account, a family member is required to submit the user name or link to the profile page, and proof of death in the form of a public obituary or news article. Twitter also advises, “Please note that we cannot allow access to the account or disclose other non-public information regarding the account.”


As one of the oldest social networks, MySpace has a deceased user policy that is more of a standardized policy of removal rather than memorializing. Moreover, MySpace does not adequately address privacy concerns and is susceptible to hacking –

To remove a MySpace profile, a family member must contact MySpace via e-mail with proof of death and the user’s unique identification number. A user-name is generally not acceptable.

“Unfortunately, we can’t let you access, edit, or delete any of the content or settings on the user’s profile yourself, but we’ll be sure to review and remove any content you find objectionable,” reads MySpace’s policy. This policy is not particularly helpful for older relatives that are not Internet-savvy and makes it almost impossible to remove a deceased user’s existence from MySpace.

Strangely enough, hackers can potentially access the deceased user’s account. On MySpace’s policy page is an admission admitting that anyone with access to their e-mail account can simply “retrieve the password through the forgot password link” and make any necessary changes.

“I believe social networks are really useful for memorializing the deceased,” stated Barry Epstein of Boca Raton. “No matter what one does at the memorial service, people are using social networks as a way to deal with the departed, but in a way that funerals don’t allow.”

Source: The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune – Media General Group