Facebook tweaks policies to deal with member deaths

facebook logoFacebook is to launch a scheme allowing the pages of users who have passed away to be reclassified as a memorial. It’s designed to cut down on inappropriate automated messages but may also limit media intrusion.

The issue has come to prominence recently after the site tweaked its “Suggestions” panel. Previously this displayed details of other Facebook members a user might know and add as a friend (usually those where the system knew the pair had friends in common). Now the panel also displays existing Facebook friends that the user hasn’t contacted through the site and suggests they “reconnect”, for example by writing on one another’s wall.

This probably sounded like a good idea to Facebook management: if even a small proportion of people followed the suggestion it would mean more page views and thus more ad revenue. Unfortunately, it also meant people got unsuitable messages, such as the suggestion that they reconnect with their spouse (who, logically enough, they didn’t communicate with much through the site.) It also meant that a large number of people would get potentially upsetting suggestions that they reconnect with a Facebook account holder who had died.

To help reduce this problem, Facebook is bringing in a memorial system. The system means that if somebody passes away, a close friend or relative can report their death to Facebook, preferably citing an obituary or other news article to confirm the request is not a sick prank. It appears this will be overseen on a case-by-case basis rather than through an automated system.

The account will then be set to memorial status, which means it becomes restricted to only be viewed by existing Facebook friends, and the account log-in will be blocked. Friends will continue to be able to post message on the account’s wall as a form of memorial. However, potentially sensitive information such as past status updates and contact details will be removed.

A welcome side-effect of this system is that it should restrict the unseemly practice of journalists raiding a deceased person’s account to pick up details about their personal lives, or to help themselves to photographs. It might seem difficult to imagine this actually happening, but Britain’s Press Complaints Commission has had to issue stricter guidelines to prevent such behavior.

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