Facebook Changes Policy on Deceased Users Accounts?

Late last week the Consumerist wrote an article highlighting a woman who had trouble convincing Facebook to remove the profile of her deceased brother. William Bemister, the brother of Stephanie Bermister, died suddenly last November. Stephanie’s case in particular brings up several important issues regarding Facebook, it’s policy towards deceased users, and the way in which it deals with family members of the deceased.

Per Facebook’s policy, his profile was memorialized, a process by which certain private information is removed and the page is only accessible to confirmed friends through search. The problem in Stephanie’s case was that she was not yet a confirmed friend. After Stephanie sent in a request along with a copy of William’s death certificate to Facebook for removing William’s profile completely, Facebook still did not remove the profile.

Should Facebook have the right to decide what to do with a deceased member’s account despite direct and confirmed contact with a relative? At the very least, family members should be contacted for permission before Facebook begins this process.

Since the Consumerist article was initially published Facebook has agreed to remove William’s account all together, and a written response to our own inquiry indicates that Facebook will honor such requests from family members. Facebook is also clear to state that it will not give login information for the deceased account, but will remove the profile per the request of family members.

What’s still in question is the process by which Facebook determines which users are deceased, and how this is confirmed. We haven’t received any additional information from Facebook regarding this particular aspect of the process for managing the profiles of deceased members, but looking at Stephanie’s situation merely highlights the uncomfortable dynamic a social network can enduce when dealing with the topic of death.

So what should a user do if placed in Stephanie’s shoes? Be prepared to deal with a potentially arduous process with the social networks, as there could be a lot of ongoing correspondence and paperwork to deal with. It may also be a good idea to make sure you’re friends with your closest family members that also have Facebook accounts. Depending on the person and their use of social networks, it may also be a good idea to have a plan of action in place, outlining instructions to family members and loved ones in regard to what should be done with their accounts once they’ve passed away.