Living Forever With Facebook

The extent to which Facebook permeates into everyday life makes it a staple in our culture among the young today. But what happens when one dies?

With an average of 800 billion minutes are being spent on Facebook, whether it is logging on to chat with comrades, leaving comments on a friend’s profile, playing games, taking quizzes, sharing photos and more, we might leave Facebook but does it ever really leave us? Is it possible for a passed loved one to “live on” through their Facebook page?

At the outset of the tragic death that beset his best friend in 2005, one of Facebook’s creators Max Kelly, had wondered how to deal with an interaction with someone who is no longer able to log on?”

He came to the conclusion that it was important to keep memories of the deceased alive, and thus began developing the idea of providing Facebook memorials for those that have passed away. In October, Facebook allowed this idea to finally become a reality.

This new application offered a way to cope with the loss of a friend or a family member. The goal was to provide an opportunity for close friends and family members to be reminded of the good memories they shared, whether it was by leaving a comment on the day of their birthday, or looking back on the pictures and reliving the good times.

Facebook users such as second-year business economics major Dona Cantu, at first, experienced the initial awkward situation of seeing her deceased friend frequently appear on the suggestion list to “reconnect.” Cantu realized that if anything, the experience was more positive than negative. She felt more comfort in being reminded of her friend, and the meaningful impression he had made on her life.

In the light of Facebook’s new memorial application, Cantu deems it as a new form of conversing. She believes that the continual presence of her deceased friend on Facebook instills in her a sort of calmness, a form of reassurance that he will always be there.

“In a way you can reconnect. Every time you miss them you can write on their wall, tag them in pictures for everyone to share. It is similar to placing flowers on their gravesite,” Cantu said.

But she is not the only one who approves of Facebook’s new way of honoring the deceased.

Grief and trauma counselors like Patti Harada, professor of psychology of death and loss at the University of Arizona, agree that idea of the community uniting together in dealing with the loss of their loved ones is a vital part of the grief process.

“It helps keep that person alive,” Haranda said.

With a perspective similar to Cantu’s, Harada parallels memorial Web sites (such as Facebook) to the traditional trend of mortuaries, cemeteries and newspaper obituaries.

While users like Cantu and experts like Harada have taken a positive view of honoring the deceased, doubt and uncertainty concerning the social and security issues abound. For example, how will Facebook verify the legitimacy of a user’s death? How will it be known that it isn’t just some sort of a prank?

In response to these questionable issues, Facebook has taken specific measures and adopted certain rules. If one wants to memorialize the profile of a deceased friend, it is required to prove his or relation to the friend by providing the date of birth, e-mail address, and an obituary confirming the friend’s death. To prevent hackers from logging in, the account will be locked and personal information will be removed.

The question of whether Facebook’s function as a social connector extends to those who have passed away is ultimately up to every individual.

For some people such as Cantu or Harada, the deceased have every right to maintain their presence on Facebook and stay connected to the hearts of ones who miss them and still long for a way of communication.