Facebook and the Privacy of the Dead


Facebook recently revealed their new death policy, and it’s stirring up a lot of controversy. In the past, the policy was that deceased individual’s accounts would be memorialized, or restricted to friends-only viewing. The new policy, however, allows the accounts to remain public if that’s the way they were in the first place. Facebook’s reasoning for this change of policy is as follows, “This will allow people to see memorialized profiles in a manner consistent with the deceased person’s expectations of privacy. We are respecting the choices a person made in life while giving their extended community of family and friends ongoing visibility to the same content they could always see.”

This change in policy makes it seem as though users are consciously making their own memorial when they create a Facebook account. As one blogger sees it, this new policy is way out of line: “Early, especially tragic, or newsworthy deaths subject online profiles to unusual and unsettling scrutiny. Imagine you survived some sort of public event that landed you on TV, or in the paper. You might be inclined to tighten your online privacy settings to avoid unwanted attention. Or simply to hide, at least from people who don’t know you well, those pictures from your raucous birthday party the week before. Now, imagine you didn’t survive: Is the last thing you posted on Facebook fit to be your public legacy? How about the first thing? Did you think, as you uploaded that last photo, that you were helping design your own public funeral program?”

With the recent release of Facebook’s ‘looking back’ videos, many families and friends of deceased individuals reached out to Facebook to try and gain access to their lost loved one. The process to go about validating the individual’s identity involves going through an authentication process. At least in this regard Facebook is protecting the privacy rights of the deceased – after all, being a ‘Facebook friend’ doesn’t necessarily have any bearing in their relationship in the real non-virtual world.

What do you think? Do you think this new policy oversteps bounds or is a reasonable step for Facebook to take?




Herrman, John. (2014). Facebook will now ‘maintain the visibility’ of dead users’ profiles.

Retrieved from: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/facebook-will-now-maintain-the-visibility-of-dead-users-prof

6 thoughts on “Facebook and the Privacy of the Dead

  1. I feel like these situations are never easy to solve. There always seems to a double edged sword to any solution. There is a part of me that feels after the user has died, friend of the user should only be allowed to see it however it also makes sense to leave the privacy setting as the user intended. I do think that editing to the page should be limited because not everybody may leave a nice comment after a death, especially in cases of suicide. I do however respect the fact that in order to gain access to the account, in the parent’s case, that Facebook requires an authentication process in respect to the past user. Situations like these are never easy to deal with, and even though Facebook has been around for a while, the whole system of social networking is new and it may take time to find the right response in situations like this.


  2. I’ve always wondered what happens to a Facebook account when someone dies. It’s concerning that the profile would be open to everyone after death (if that was the way it was while they were living), and I think you made a good point that the last thing the deceased person posted may very well be their legacy. I definitely prefer the idea of Facebook’s authentication process for family members.


  3. I think you bring up a really great point with questioning what happened when a Facebook user dies. In high school one of my classmates passed away and for weeks after people would go on his Facebook and write posts on his wall about what a great guy he was and how much they missed him. It seemed almost like a form of grieving to many of the students.


  4. Facebook has become part of our culture at this point, which means that in the case of tragic deaths, it’s become part of the grieving process. I’ve heard about the new privacy policy a few times now and it seems more confusing each time. Maybe I’m just not tech-savvy enough? Regardless, there’s never going to be a perfect way for Facebook to approach the problem. Grieving is a completely unique process for each person. It is nice to see them acknowledging potential problems associated with the death of users though.


  5. I feel like this is a ploy to justify laziness. So many people are on Facebook. I wonder how many deaths a day occur and how many people have to go and change privacy settings for each account. I understand why this policy is so controversial.


  6. I think ultimately as a service, Facebook feels the need to streamline the process. A girl from my high school recently passed away tragically from a form of cancer, and she was tagged in all the memorial posts–it’s part of a new cultural grieving process.


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