On Friday, Facebook announced that they were making changes to the way privacy settings work on profiles after a user’s death. Previously, after a user died, Facebook gave family members the option to either delete the account, or memorialize it making it visible to friends only. Now, when someone passes away, their profile’s privacy settings will be the same as they were before they died.
Facebook Community Operators Chris Price and Alex DiSclafani explained in the announcement, “We are respecting the choices a person made in life while giving their extended community of family and friends ongoing visibility to the same content they could always see.” While profiles were originally being maintained by the diseased’s family after they died, they are now going to be kept the way the user had them while they were living.
In today’s digital era, news is capable of being spread across the planet in a matter of seconds – this also applies to the news of someone’s death. After Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away earlier this month, news of his death spread throughout social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. Fellow actors like Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges tweeted about Hoffman’s death. Spacey tweeted, “A tragedy to lose a supremely talented actor as Philip Seymour Hoffman.” In December last year, a woman in Washington unknowingly discovered that her husband had died in a car accident through a Washington State Trooper’s Twitter.
Social media like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way that people can react or interact after someone has died. A new website called “eterni.me” collects all the data from a person’s social media life and inserts it into an algorithm which makes a virtual, artificially intelligent avatar. The website allows people to talk and interact with the someone who passed away, describing it as “a Skype chat from the past.”
With Facebook making changes to the way that profiles can be viewed after someone’s death, friends and family are now able to see a snapshot of person’s life up until their death.
Earlier this month Facebook celebrated their tenth year anniversary by releasing a personalized video for everyone on Facebook. The 62 second video called “A Look Back” automatically took the highlights of a person’s life on Facebook – ranging from comments, status updates, and pictures – and put them all into one movie montage.
While the movie was automatically made for profiles of the deceased, it was not accessible for people to view unless they had control of the account itself. This was the case for Josh Berlin, who wanted to view his son’s “Look Back” video earlier this month. His son, Jesse, had suddenly passed away in his sleep in January 2012. After he watched his own “Look Back” video which included images of his son, Berlin made a YouTube video appealing to Facebook CEO and creator Mark Zuckerberg to allow him to see his son’s video. Zuckerberg replied to Berlin himself in a phone call later that week, personally giving Berlin access to his son’s video. Berlin replied, “From the bottom of my heart and everything that I am, I thank you, Facebook.”
After the series of events with Berlin, Facebook stated that they wanted to change the way that the company could “celebrate and commemorate” the life of someone who passed away. Facebook also announced that they would allow other families the opportunity to see the “Look Back” videos after a loved one’s death. With Facebook’s announcement on Friday that they were changing the way profiles can be viewed after death, they have taken another step towards their goal of successfully respecting and celebrating someone’s life.
By Tyler Shibata