Facebook’s Next Big Challange – How to handle the deaths of users

Aaron Holtzman February 12, 2012 2
Facebook’s Next Big Challange  – How to handle the deaths of users

As more and more people continue to sign up on Facebook and online personas become more prevalent…a new issue arises: how to handle the death of a Facebook user.

Current state laws which cover how to handle the estate of a deceased relative states that the estate executor, the person appointed to handle the deceased person’s estate, can access things like property and bank accounts BUT they were no designed with the current situation with our online lives. The big question for lawmakers has become how to tackle the question of who can manage the online presence of a deceased person…and to what extent can they manage it?

Legal experts say that the terms of service users agree to when they use social media sites, can take precedent over state laws. For example, Facebook’s user agreement cite various state and federal laws that forbid the site from giving access to anyone who is not the owner. Currently, Facebook will put the user’s account into a memorialized state. This freezes the user’s content but allows family and friends to still leave comments on the page. Family members can still request an account to be taken down by verifying a death certificate of the family but this process can still take several days to a month to be processed.

In some cases, Facebook users have committed suicide and before doing so posted a photo of a gun in their mouth, such was the instance with “TJ” Cannata. The family who experienced this tragedy requested that the profile be terminated, but it took about a month for this to occur. For such an intense and horrible event, I would have liked to see a little more gusto from the social media giant, especially with the fact that there was a very explicit photo of the user that was taken before the he took his life.

Having experienced the death of a friend who still has a profile up…what I can say is that is a source of comfort to see the continuance of friends and family sending messages such as “listening to guns and roses and thought of you”. However, if his family ever wished to have the profile taken down, there would be not even the slightest ounce of regret…because if you truly wish to pay your respects to a deceased friend then you should respect the wishes of the living family.

My personal stance is that the profile be permitted to remain up UNLESS the family wants it to be taken down, and once requested it be taken down in a timely manner (not more than a week). This is purely out of the respect for the user’s family. We do not need profile pages to pay our respects. Every day when we think about the good times and carry their memories with us is all that has to be done…celebrate their life and continue to live your own.


  1. George Lue February 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    It’s a little tragic, but the flipside is that if Facebook makes mistakes and shuts down profiles without some proof, that interferes with people who want to use the site.

    One way that I think that Facebook could handle this is to simply make an option in the settings that says something like “In the event of my death, please either a) Leave my profile up for ____ amount of time b) Take my profile down. Sort of like a living social will.

  2. Bryan Rowe February 27, 2012 at 12:01 am - Reply

    Probably the best course of action would be Facebook allowing one to designate an executor of one’s account. This person would be allowed to mark the person deceased and administer their account after their passing. Also in one’s will it would be a good idea to leave the account info and passwords of anything that this person would like to have their family be able to access.

    This would only work for those who prepare all this beforehand. Most younger people who die before their time, do not have a will and probably would not have prepared their internet life for after their passing.

    Most immediately though, Facebook really needs to understand that after a person dies, if their family does not want them to appear online any longer, they must act much more swiftly to meet the needs of a grieving family.

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