Will Your Virtual Life End When Your Real One Does?

February 24, 2009 03:04 PM
by Rachel Balik
A recent incident with Facebook indicates that it has become important for people to specify what they want done with their online content after they die.

Facebook Says Dead People’s Pages Serve as Memorials

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. However Facebook refused to remove the page, citing their policy of leaving up the pages of deceased people to serve as memorials.

Shocked and upset, Bemister contacted the Consumerist blog asking for help in persuading Facebook to remove the page. The blog posted information about Bemister’s situation and Facebook immediately responded stating that they hadn’t known she was the deceased user’s sister. A Facebook spokesperson acknowledged that the company should have asked her for more information rather than immediately denying her request.

Background: Using Facebook to remember the dead

Temple News, the Temple University newspaper, reported that in some cases, a dead person’s Facebook page can be healing for friends and family members. After her daughter, who was a student at the school, died, Dawn Burke logged on to her daughter’s Facebook page for a year to read messages left by mourning friends. She said it helped her to stay close to her daughter and it was therapeutic for her son to be able to leave comments.

Facebook was a tool for healing after the Virginia Tech shootings as well. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that one student signed on to Facebook to start a group immediately after getting out of campus lockdown. The student, Kevin Robinson, said he hoped that even those not directly affiliated with the shootings would join the group, and that perhaps it would help to raise money for families.

Many other Facebook groups were set up to memorialize those who died during the Virginia Tech shooting; for example, “A Tribute to Those Who Passed At the Virginia Tech Shooting” allows members to read messages from survivors of the event and relatives and friends of those who died, as well as express their own thoughts and feelings. The page offers links to information about the tragedy and other Web sites that offer tribute or comfort. The group currently has nearly 250,000 members.

Reference: Facebook’s rights and responsibility page; Internet safety

Facebook has a group called the Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities where users can discuss and contribute to Facebook policy and terms of use.

It is essential to learn how much privacy you have online and how to guard your Internet identity. FindingDulcinea's Web Guide to Internet Security has all the information you need to protect yourself.

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