Facebook Profiles Public After Death

FacebookOver the past month, Facebook has been working towards making the profiles of deceased users more public. The change was initiated shortly after the “A Look Back” feature was added to Facebook earlier this month.

The social media site celebrated its first decade on Feb. 4, 2014. In honor of the event, the company created “A Look Back,” a personalized, one-minute history for every Facebook user. The videos capture the history of users using their photographs, posts and “life events.” But for one user, the video could not be seen.

Jesse Berlin was a 22-year-old guitarist from St. Louis, MO. He tragically died on Jan. 28, 2012, leaving his family in anguish. The continued pain of his father, John Berlin, was expressed in a video plea to Facebook in early 2014. Berlin had seen the surge of “A Look Back” videos on Facebook, and tried to access his son’s account in order to view his video.

Berlin’s attempts were futile, so the devastated father took to the web for help. He posted a YouTube video addressed to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook employees. Through tears, he asked viewers to share the video in hopes it would go viral and reach “somebody that counts.”

The heart-breaking video flooded Facebook and YouTube until finally reaching Facebook employees who felt compelled to take action. The company created a specialized video for the father and his family, touching the hearts of many who loved Jesse Berlin.

But the company warned this action was a special incident. Because deceased Facebook members profiles’ were taken out of the public eye, their “A Look Back” videos would remain visible only to friends of the member. Facebook has revised these settings.

A recent statement made by Chris Price and Alex DiSclafani, employees of Facebook’s Community Operations, said, “Starting today, we will [allow] the visibility of a [deceased] person’s content as-is. This will allow people to see…profiles…with the…person’s expectations of privacy. We are respecting the [member’s] choices….in life while giving their extended community…visibility to the same content they could always see.”

In the ever-growing age of social media, sites are facing difficult decisions for postmortem, virtual identities. One social site, Eterni.com, has created a bizarre solution. When a member dies, the site collects personal data from the profile and creates an avatar, with which loved ones can communicate.

A beta website, lifestory.com, deletes deceased member profiles and allows family and friends to upload pictures and posts in remembrance to an entirely new profile. The change for Facebook to make deceased users’ profiles more public comes with a warning. For Facebook to “memorialize” an account, a family member or friend must contact the site to confirm the person’s death.

To “memorialize” an account, Facebook users must click the “help” link on any active Facebook account. Under the help search bar, users can then type “memorial” and this will lead to a request form. Once inside the request form, the friend or family member must give a link to the account they wish to be memorialized, proof of death and relation to the deceased.

Once approved by Facebook, a memorialized account will now have the same publicity as its previous settings, allowing an extended group of friends and family to mourn a loved one after death.

By Erin P. Friar


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