Digital Memorialization: Where Are We Headed?

Posted March 30, 2016

5 min read

CRäKN spoke with Jason Bruce, a funeral industry consultant and speaker with more than 20 years of experience in the industry and a regular contributor to Mortuary Management Magazine. Here we share what we learned from Bruce about how Facebook is transforming how we experience death, now and in the future.

The Digital World: Changing How We Experience Death

As a regular columnist for Mortuary Management Magazine, Bruce was investigating a story when he discovered how in 2012, there were already 30 million accounts active on Facebook for people who had died.

He was investigating how many people stay in touch, particularly over the holidays through digital or social tools like Facebook, Skype, FaceTime and others.

When he was investigating the social tools, he saw just how much Facebook was a pioneer in the space of memorializing people’s accounts: “They were one of the first [to set up] a memorial, almost, for the individual. People can still post [to their account]. They can still see when that person’s birthday was. But they’re not going to get birthday reminders, for the family and stuff like that. Facebook was one of the first to do that.”

More than 10,000 people with Facebook accounts die each day, breaking down to 428 per hour1. “At some point in our future, Facebook will be a ‘Digital Graveyard,’ meaning there is going to be more users that have accounts that have passed away than living people who have active accounts,” says Bruce. If Facebook stopped growing, the cross-over year would be 2065, and if Facebook continues to grow at the same rate, it would be an additional 65 years later1.

Becoming More Digitally Savvy

Bruce recommends that funeral directors start to become more aware about how Facebook (and other social media platforms) allow people to turn a profile into a memorial page. “We need to start asking a question to the families that come in to seek our help and arrangements: ‘Did this individual have any social media accounts?’”

Bruce recommends educating families on what they can and cannot do: “Unless the deceased user left them instructions on how to get into their account, it will likely be difficult to access many of their accounts,” he explains. In many cases, the first step is to find out passwords, but regardless of the amount of personal information you hand over, many of the major social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter are not ever going to provide you with a loved one’s login information.

“People who sign up for social media sites usually don’t read the very fine print that’s on the terms agreement, including about memorialization.” In fact, right now, active users can tell Facebook in advance if they want their account memorialized or permanently deleted, but many people don’t know those features are available.

And, each social channel has their own approach to how they handle inactivity on their platform. Facebook has a policy where it does not actively delete accounts that have no activity. “This is unlike Twitter, which - after about 6 months - will go through, and if they see that there has been no activity on a certain account, once in a while they will just shut down that account. You can restart it, but they will take it upon themselves to do that, in some cases.”

An Online Memorialization

Bruce points out that on Facebook, the data that is shared is much more personal than some of the other social media channels – something that is critical for families to consider, too, when they decide if they want to keep the profile as-is, memorialize it, or take steps to delete the account.

Funeral directors can help families set up memorialized accounts on Facebook for their loved ones. Memorialized accounts will say “Remembering” next to the person’s name or profile, and depending on privacy settings, friends can share memories on that person’s memorialized timeline. No one can log in to a memorialized account, which can help to make sure that data is more secure.

When taking the steps to memorialize a Facebook page, a person will contact Facebook to begin the process. Facebook requests a link to an obituary or other proof of death such as the death certificate. Rather than memorialization, if family members want to remove the person’s account entirely from Facebook (also called deactivation), verified family members have the ability to initiate that process.

“Twitter, currently, does not offer memorialization. They do offer an archive where you can archive past content,” explains Bruce. Someone who is authorized to act on behalf of the estate or who is verified as an immediate family member does have the ability to take steps to delete a loved one’s Twitter account, or to request the removal of specific imagery.

In the future, Facebook and other social media channels will continue to help people remember and celebrate those who have passed. Since many people don’t know all their options, or how to even begin to proceed with a loved ones’ social accounts, it is just another area in which funeral directors can help guide and support families.

Sources/References

  1. Hiscock, Michael. “Dead Facebook Users Will Soon Outnumber the Living.” The Loop. 26 June 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

About Jason B. Bruce

  Jason Bruce is a consultant and public speaker in the funeral industry, focusing on funeral home management and occupational safety. He is a monthly contributing author for Mortuary Management Magazine and has been a featured guest host on “Get Smart Radio” and other radio shows and podcasts around the country. Bruce began his career in the funeral industry in 1996, at the age of 15, working for the local funeral home in his hometown of Rochester Hills, MI.  After graduation from Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science and completion of his apprenticeship, Bruce received his Mortuary Science License, returning to Michigan to work.   In 2004, Bruce moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he worked for Carriage Services, Inc., as a Funeral Director and Location Supervisor. Bruce has also worked as General Manager of Pacific Interment Service, a privately owned funeral home and crematory located in the heart of San Francisco’s mission district, and as Managing Funeral Director with Stewart Enterprises Inc.

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We help funeral professionals save time, prevent duplicate work & reduce errors. Focus on the family, let us focus on helping you. Request a demo today!