Social Media Extends Beyond the Grave With Virtual Memorials

April 24, 2009 07:00 AM
by Anne Szustek
A host of companies are offering online services to commemorate the passing of loved ones, providing an eternal connection between the deceased and his or her mourners.

Welcome to Neternity

Religious views notwithstanding, life after death can now be a certainty—at least in the virtual world. In a trend that could be called Funeral Plot 2.0, people are buying up online memorial space, providing a virtual location for grieving survivors to gather and recall the deceased.

One such site, the Los Angeles-based, allows users to choose from such backgrounds as “Tropical Valley” and “Lake View” for their final online resting place, to which loved ones can post videos and online flowers on special days.

EternalSpace President Jay Goss said in a press release, “EternalSpace helps the funeral industry address these changing dynamics and delivers a service that meets the growing need for families to support each other and stay connected over greater distances.” has profile pages based on information provided by the Social Security Administration. According to the Tampa Tribune, “Soon, executives with the site expect to offer pre-death services so people can plan their online profiles to run after their funeral.”
Other sites, such as, allow survivors to post memorials in honor of their deceased loved one. Tampa resident Michelle Costley told the Tampa Tribune about the tribute she posted about her father on the site, “He was constantly on e-mail and a big Facebook fan, so I think he’d be appreciative … Sometimes when I’m down it’s nice to pull up the site and be able to look at his face.”

Background: The deceased’s virtual remains

Posthumous high-tech memorials have been available for some years now. In November 2007, Chicago Public Radio’s “This American Life” profiled Hollywood Forever, a cemetery whose funerary services include producing a video about the deceased, available for permanent viewing at the cemetery and online.

But when people who already have a significant online presence die, what happens to their content? After her brother Bill died, Stephanie Bemister wrote to Facebook and asked them to take down his page, which she asserted contained personal information she no longer wanted public. Facebook refused to remove the page, however, citing their policy of leaving up the pages of deceased people to serve as memorials.

A Facebook spokesperson acknowledged that the company should have asked her for more information rather than immediately denying her request. The social networking site’s policy is that relatives can send Facebook a government death notice or a newspaper obit of the deceased person, after which the respective page will go into a “memorial state” with access limited to certain friends.

MySpace’s policy in this situation is that “the company does not allow people to assume control of the MySpace accounts of users after their deaths,” MySpace CEO Tom Anderson told The New York Times in an email exchange. “MySpace handles each incident on a case-by-case basis when notified, and will work with families to respect their wishes,” he continued.

A separate site,, links profiles of dead MySpace members to their obituaries. The deaths featured are often those of young people who died untimely. Like other online memorials, the profiles feature the deceased person’s favorite song, food and quotes.

“It’s a way for the family to maintain connections with the deceased’s friends, while also allowing the grieving process to take place in a global public forum,” writes Mashable poster Mike Fruchter.

Others have been critical of MyDeathSpace, however. A July 2007 Salon article notes, “For some, it's a form of reality-based entertainment, of the most morbid variety.” At times, complete strangers to those profiled have posted comments that ridicule the circumstances of death or the spelling of other commenters.

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