What Happens to Dead Users?

With 500 million members, Facebook sees users die on a regular basis, especially with its crowd growing older—6.5 million people over the age of 65 signed up in May alone. But unlike other milestones of life, like birthdays and weddings, the world’s largest social networking site has had a hard time finding an automatic, yet delicate way to deal with death. When users die, their profiles often stay up for long stretches of time. “It’s a very sensitive topic,” said a company spokeswoman, “and, of course, seeing deceased friends pop up can be painful.” Given the site’s size, “and people passing away every day, we’re never going to be perfect at catching it,” she added. Facebook’s handling has changed over time. It used to immediately erase profiles of the dead, but now it is working on options to turn those pages into tributes. Though the option is not well publicized, profiles can now be “memorialized”—some personal information is deleted, but friends can still post messages.