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Facebook Remembers the Departed

What happens to your Facebook page after you die?

That's a question that probably hasn't crossed the minds of many of the millions of people that have signed up with the giant social networking site in the last couple of years. But with the average age of Facebook members trending decidedly older, and with the over 55's representing one of the fastest growing groups, maybe we should be giving it some thought.

One solution is for family members to request that the account be shut down. (Although this sounds easy enough in theory, the actual experience might be a little harder. Facebook is expected to issue a policy statement on this in the next few weeks.)

Another way to go is to leave the account as a place to visit for grieving friends and family. In an entry on the Facebook blog, Max Kelly, Facebook's head of security, this week reminded members that the ability to "memorialize" the Facebook page of a deceased friend or family member was already an option.

(In part, Mr. Kelly's post was in response to a much-criticized makeover of the standard Facebook home page. A feature called Suggestions was inadvertently asking members to "reconnect" with friends that had passed away!)

When an account is memorialized, Facebook removes sensitive information such as contact details and status updates. Only confirmed friends would be able to see the profile of the deceased or locate it in a search. However, confirmed friends would be able to leave posts on the deceased's Wall, turning it into an online remembrance book much like pages on the web sites of funeral homes, where friends and family can post their condolences.

Although Facebook isn't very clear about what security measures it takes to make sure such requests aren't hoaxes or unfortunate pranks, the form for requesting that an account be memorialized does ask for proof of death – an obituary or a link to a news article. Hopefully, such requests are rigorously screened and validated, particularly as they appear to accept requests from non-family members.

The idea for memorializing Facebook pages came after Kelly's best friend, a fellow Facebook employee, died in a tragic bicycling accident. "As time passes, the sting of losing someone you care about also fades but it never goes away," Kelly writes. "I still visit my friend's memorialized profile to remember the good times we had and share them with our mutual friends."


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