What will happen to your Facebook account?

Pamela Chan, BCFamily.ca/Editorial

When something important happens, don’t worry.  You’ll find out on social media.


Maybe not.  You would think that on social media details about a person’s death would be fully visible.  Yet months after I heard about one person’s passing, the news hasn’t been fully disseminated. I still see posts by friends who didn’t hear what happened.

Call it the Facebook Alogrithmn effect. Something got lost in the filtering.

Accounts Can Be Memorialized

Of the friends that I know who have died and left Facebook accounts behind, none of them have been memorialized using the memorialize option.  At first glance, it appears that Facebook allows you to set this option up in advance; however, it seems the only place where you can put that possibility in motion is via the “select a legacy contact” page.  One of the advantages of this option is that the word “remembering” is placed next to the account holder’s name when it appears in people’s contact list.  This will help to prevent the situation described above, when people don’t know about a death months after it happens.

Family members can request to have a profile memorialized after someone dies.  A related function is the option to have a legacy contact.  This gives someone else the ability to make changes to your memorialized account, such as adding new friends.

A Trusted Contact Can’t Help

You might have already selected a few friends to be trusted contacts on Facebook. This option serves a different function.  It helps you to get back into your Facebook account, in case you get locked out for some reason.  This function won’t help family members and friends after a person dies.

From time to time you will see stories in the news about a family member who has tried repeatedly to access the Facebook account of a deceased family member, so that it can be deleted.  If this is a situation that you face, it is always best to contact Facebook directly for assistance.  Keep in mind that if you memorialize a family member’s account, you have to be a legacy contact if you want to make any changes.

A Gathering Place for Family and Friends

The Facebook page of someone who has passed away can become a space where family members and friends can leave messages to the deceased and connect with each other.  If you believe in the after life, you just might be one of those people who wants to speak directly to the deceased via their page.  Or you can speak about him or her in the third person, addressing your comments to friends and family members.

Whether or not a profile page is memorialized, friends and family members do appreciate the opportunity to look back on the page of a deceased person, re-read the information that was shared and remember that person’s unique voice and outlook.  Their page functions like a digital scrapbook and diary combined.

How to Upset Friends When Someone Has Died

More recently I happened to see a photo on my timeline that had been tagged and connected to the page of a friend.  The comment written underneath seemed to be saying that he would be remembered for his life’s accomplishments.

“Has he died?”, I thought.

One visit to his page confirmed what I had suspected.  I uploaded some photos of him with mutual friends on my own page and left a message to his family members on his Facebook page.  I didn’t receive any direct communication from anyone connected to the family but did receive a message in my Facebook inbox.

“X died last week.”  No salutation or signed name were included.  I don’t know who wrote the message as it was sent from his account.

I wrote back immediately to extend, once again, the condolences of my family.  I didn’t receive a reply.

The natural conclusion here would be that family members are very busy and preoccupied around the time of a person’s death.  They don’t have time to write every person individually.

Fair enough.

But there was time, the next day, for someone to cull friends from his Facebook Friends list.  I found that my connection to his  now smaller Friends list was deleted.  Why would someone do that within days of a person’s death? Why would someone think that a one liner sent to contacts would be sufficient notification of a person’s death – in particular for someone who has lived for 9 decades and has friends all over the world? Why would they not allow friends and contacts to leave condolence messages on that person’s page?

I followed this up by sending a message to say that I hoped my message of condolence had been received before my friend connection was deleted.  I received no response.

“Wow”, I thought, “so this is how it is when someone dies”.

Oh well – as imperfect as social media communication methods are, at least it’s better than the old fashioned channels.  They don’t seem to be alive and well these days.

Some months ago I found out that my Great Aunt had died.  I heard about the news in passing, in the midst of a conversation.

“What?! She died?  When did this happen? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

Now if only the parties involved had all been using social media.  At least I could have had an outside chance of seeing a tagged photo.


More information about how to select a legacy contact person on Facebook.

Have you taken any decisions about your own Facebook account? Have you tried to access an account of a family member who has passed away? You can comment about this posting using the comment function below or on the BCFamily.ca Facebook page. Your opinion matters so don’t be shy!

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