In Depth

What happens to your Facebook account when you die?

Social media giant to use AI to stop people getting notifications about deceased friends and relatives

Facebook is developing a new artificial intelligence programme to prevent its users from receiving potentially upsetting notifications about dead relatives and friends.

Since 2009, Facebook has given users the ability to “memorialise” profiles - a status that adds “Remembering” to the person’s name and allows friends to post messages, reports the BBC. Once a page has been memorialised, it no longer appears within notifications as if that person were still alive.

But some grieving users have been getting nudges to interact with deceased loved ones who have not yet been memorialised. 

The social media giant says its new and improved AI system should help prevent such painful situations, by better managing the way that the accounts of deceased users appear on the social network. 

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said: “If an account hasn’t yet been memorialised, we use AI to help keep it from showing up in places that might cause distress, like recommending that person be invited to events or sending a birthday reminder to their friends. We’re working to get better and faster at this.”

In recent years, a number of Facebook users have accused the social media service of being “cruel” after its algorithms “brought up dead friends and relatives in places where people didn’t expect”, says The Daily Telegraph

The issue came to a head in 2014, when the company’s “year in review” feature - which automatically creates a video showing a user’s top posts and pictures over the past 12 months - included “tragic and distressing events” for some people, the newspaper says.

With the new AI programme, users should no longer get updates about dead contacts, be reminded of their birthday, or get suggestions to invite them to an event, Metro reports. 

What happens to your account when you die?

Friends and relatives of a deceased Facebook user have a few different choices for how that person’s account is handled. 

One option is to memorialise the account, whereby users can view a deceased person’s profile by selecting the “tributes” tab. The move converts the account into a memorial page and keeps their timeline intact. 

Alternatively, if the user elected a friend or relative as a “legacy” contact before they passed away, the nominee can take over the running of the account following their death. 

Under new measures also being introduced by Facebook, legacy contacts can now moderate “posts shared to the new tributes section by changing tagging settings, removing tags and editing who can post and see posts”, Sandberg said in a blogpost.

People aged under 18 cannot designate legacy contacts, but parents or guardians of deceased children can request access to their account by contacting Facebook directly. 

However, Wired argues that this legacy contact system still has flaws. According to the tech news site, you can only have one legacy contact for an account - so “if both the person and their designated legacy contact die, say in a car crash, there’s no back-up person”.  

When asked by Wired about the potential complications that could cause, Sandberg replied: “Oh my God, that’s so interesting, and I wonder if we should have a second [contact].”

“I had not heard that or it had not occurred to me before, but... we should explore that and we will,” she added. 

Can your account be deleted after you die?

Yes. The elected legacy contact is able to delete the decease person’s account, including their posts and pictures.

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