Facebook Won't Let You Remove Dead Relative's Page, Per "Policy"

UPDATE: Facebook Agrees To Take Down Dead Relative’s Page. Facebook thinks it knows better than the sister of the deceased journalist Bill Bemister about what to do with his Facebook page. Stephanie Bemister sent them a copy of his death certificate and asked it get taken down for privacy and respect purposes. Unlike every other single social networking site she dealt with, Facebook said no. They have a better idea. Stephanie’s letter inside…

Dear Ben,

It is great that organizations such as yours have such an impact for consumers. Please accept my heartfelt thanks for all you do.

I have a problem which has not been mentioned so far and I have to say I am heartbroken, angry and am lost for words.

My brother, William Bemister, died very suddenly mid November. He lived in Oxford, England. I went to the UK to hold a service for my brother who was divorced and lived on his own. However, if anyone believed he was just another single, and lonely middle-aged man with no friends or family to speak of, this was far from the truth. He was a successful Nazi hunter, Emmy award winning investigative journalist with thousands of contacts all over the world. He was about to start filming his next documentary, ‘Admissible Evidence.’

He had a Facebook page. The day before he died he promised me he would accept me on his friends list. We spoke on the phone two, three times a week. And were very close even though thousands of miles apart. Also on his friends list were my two daughters, his nieces. He only knew, personally, three other women, the rest of his friends were strangers he met through Facebook Oxford links.

The dilemma I had was that he had posted a lot of personal information such as phone number, company website, email address. If you have ever lost someone you will appreciate that when someone dies you need to have this information removed quickly for several reasons: for security purposes, to stop strangers incessantly phoning and emailing the deceased and the worst of all, the sheer grief of dealing with hundreds of people who believe he is still alive and need to be informed of his death. It just made sense to remove his membership.

I emailed their ‘privacy’ division, attached a copy of his death certificate and asked them politely to remove his membership. Facebook refused with the following comment:

“Per our policy for deceased users, we have memorialized this person’s account. This removes certain more sensitive information and sets privacy so that only confirmed friends can see the profile or find the person in search. The Wall remains so that friends and family can leave posts in remembrance.”

Facebook is the only group social site that has refused to remove his membership. I am sickened by them. My two daughters are heartbroken as his face still remains on their own member’s page. They will not delete him off their own pages or we will never know when or how his site will be deleted. There are strangers in his membership list who can write whatever they wish on his Wall and I, his next of kin and sister, cannot even view his page. It is horrible. How can Facebook be so insensitive to the wishes of a deceased member’s family? I have never in my life felt so betrayed, angry and sickened.

What do they think they are doing? What if a teen dies for example. Parents are rarely invited onto their child’s friends’ list. Can you imagine what a parent would feel if they received such an inexplicable email from this company?

I have spoken to a number of advocate groups. They all say the same thing. They have never heard of such a thing, think it’s disgraceful and suggest I would probably have more luck writing to Mark Zuckerberg a personal letter. If this issue is not common now, it will become a serious problem in the future as Internet users find that they have no rights over deceased family members.

Please help.


Stephanie Bemister
Seattle, WA

Wow. Sounds like something a company that thinks it owns its users’ content would do. While the policy is surely a well-intentioned “default” move, if the family requests for it to be taken down that request should be honored. If Stephanie is the estate’s executor, it’s not just ethics, but the law.

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