Stephanie Bemister says that after our post went up Facebook contacted her and agreed to take down the facebook page of her dead brother, an award-winning investigative journalist and Nazi hunter. “Thank you again, Ben,” she wrote. “My family has no words that truly express how we feel.” Previously Facebook told her they wouldn’t remove the page because…
…it was their policy to keep dead members profile’s in a “memorialized” state. Facebook spokesperson Barry Schnitt responded in our comments that they would have honored her request had she identified herself as next of kin. (However, they never told her that’s what she had to do). Barry apologized for the confusion and admitted they should have asked for more info instead of summarily rejecting her request.
Barry’s note, and Stephanie’s letter of thanks, below…
Hi there, all the user has to do is identify themselves as the next of kin and we are happy to close the account. The user in this instance only said she was a relative and used a different name (not the same last name as the user), otherwise we would have granted the request. We should have asked the user for more info and, for that mistake, we apologize. However, it is a simply misunderstanding and your story and their note does not reflect our actual policy.
When we find out a user is deceased, we automatically memorialize an account. Users can also ask to have an account memorialized here: [www.facebook.com] This means that it is frozen (no more friends can be added) and the privacy options are made more strict (friends only). The vast majority of people who contact us about deceased friends want these records maintained so that they and others can remember and celebrate the person. Here is an example: [www.nytimes.com] However, as I mentioned, we’re happy to close the account, too, if the person identifies themselves as someone who should have that authority.
Sorry for the confusion.
Stephanie Bemister wrote:
Dear Ben – I honestly shed tears this morning, when I saw my brother’s photo and the article on your site. And what do you think? I received an email from Facebook and they have removed his site today. You did this for me. You have no idea what a relief it is and how much I appreciate what you have done.
A journalist recently said to me, “We can’t get people to comprehend the issues when using group social sites. We can’t get people to even make Wills. How on earth is anyone going to understand what happens to their virtual life when they die. Will they listen?”
No one has thought what the consequences are when they leave this earth, even temporarily when suffering say concussion that puts them out of action for weeks. I read a few years ago about a man who died whose family had no way of accessing his insurance, his Will, his investments, his bank, his group social pages, his websites, et al. He had secured his computer and password protected all his personal information. They had even gone as far as asking several people if it was possible to hack his computer but to no avail. It takes years to resolve if one is lucky, unlike the real world.
My brother didn’t make a Will or anything that suggested his wishes should the unthinkable happen. Last year, he was having trouble storing files and suggested he find a web server where he can store his information. I am sure he did so, but there is no way I will ever be able to find this out. He left no information on his computer as to where this web server is located. And as for his passwords that will allow one to access his information, I can also forget this. I also made suggestions to him about how to use more secure passwords.
When I returned to the U.S. after my brother died, the first thing my husband and I did was to make our Will. And we did this online so that the executors will be able to contact the online law firm and have access to our Living Will. In the Living Will we have stipulated what we want done with our virtual life. We have also included where our passwords can be found in hard copy and its location.
Lawyers should take note. Do they ever ask their clients what they want done with their virtual life? I doubt it. I would suggest to anyone to make a Will and a Living Will when you are relatively young. Then you can get on with your life. As for those of us who have reached middle age, if you haven’t already done so, do so. Don’t leave this up to your family to deal with. It will break their hearts.
Thank you again, Ben. My family has no words that truly express how we feel.
- Stephanie Bemister