Virtual mourning: Facebook’s new plan to handle accounts for those who have died

Facebook(NEW YORK) — Facebook updated account options on its platform this week to help users prepare for their own death and handle the death of loved ones.

“These changes are the result of feedback we heard from people of different religions and cultural backgrounds as well as experts and academics,” Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

Sandberg herself lost her husband Dave Goldberg nearly four years ago and said that she relied on the company’s platform to cope.

“When Dave died, I wanted to remember every detail, but in those early days, I could barely get through the day, let alone remember who told me what. Facebook was so important, not just to my grieving, but also to my remembering. It was there when I wanted to go and look. It’s still important,” Sandberg told People magazine in an interview tied to the launch of the new features.

Tributes Section

The Tribute section comprises additional tabs on memorialized profiles “where friends and family can share posts — all while preserving the original timeline of their loved one,” Sandberg wrote, adding that over 30 million people view memorialized profiles every month.

Legacy Contacts

The company expanded its Legacy Contacts function, which it first introduced in 2015. This function allows a family member or friend of the acount holder’s choosing to manage their Facebook account after they die. It originally allowed the person to update the deceased’s profile and cover photos, and pin a post such as a death announcement or funeral information.

But now, legacy contacts have expanded powers, such as being able to change settings and tags on the new Tributes section.

“This helps them manage content that might be hard for friends and family to see if they’re not ready,” Sandberg wrote.

Suppressing hurtful triggers

Facebook is working on its artificial intelligence so that it will flag that a user may be deceased without their profile having been memorialized. This is in response to several cases in which deceased loved ones appeared as a suggestion generated by the Facebook algorithm, “like recommending that person be invited to events or sending a birthday reminder to their friends,” Sandberg wrote.

Four years ago, for example, Eric A. Meyer wrote a blog post called “Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty,” about having his daughter’s face pop up in his “Year in Review.” The child had died earlier that year.

“The Year in Review ad keeps coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds, as if celebrating a death, and there is no obvious way to stop it,” Meyer had written. “In creating this Year in Review app, there wasn’t enough thought given to cases like mine, or friends of Chloe, or anyone who had a bad year. The design is for the ideal user, the happy, upbeat, good-life user. It doesn’t take other use cases into account.”

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