I’ve been on Facebook since 2007. My account currently indicates that I have 440 Facebook friends. Some of the people on my Friends List are family or individuals I actually know. Others are people who I have common interests with, or I “liked” something on a page we both frequent, or we play the same online game. I occasionally go through my Friends List to clear accounts that have been abandoned or were added for games I don’t play any more. I don’t always remove former game players as I sometimes develop an online relationship that I guess would translate to a kind of neighbourly liking of each others’ posts or commenting on happy or sad statuses. Recently whilst cleaning up my account I discovered that two people on my List had passed away. We’d played the same Facebook game. Neither had popped up on my feed for a while and when I checked their accounts there were messages of condolence, outpourings of grief and disbelief, from people who actually knew them.
One account belonged to a young man who had died of complications following a car accident. The other account belonged to a woman who, along with other members of her family, had been murdered. The postings on their account pages clearly spoke to the tragedy of these deaths and that the deceased were well loved and held a special place in the hearts of those who knew them. That, more than anything else, was why I deleted their accounts from my Friends List.
I didn’t know either of these people in real life but I felt a twinge of guilt removing them from my Friends List. For several years I’d seen their family/friends photos as well as status postings about life and family events. We’d liked some of the same things. But that didn’t make us friends. Perhaps that twinge of guilt had to do with sympathy for lives lost to violence and lives ended too soon. Or maybe it had to do with that overlapping of our online interactions that provided an illusion of connection. I’m not sure. I do know that for me, maintaining access to those two Facebook accounts, where their friends and families were posting heartbreaking messages, felt like an invasion of privacy. Facebook is a public forum but the few postings I did read made me feel as if I was eavesdropping on a very personal and painful conversation that I had no right to hear. Even though they will never know, deleting those account connections seemed like the very least I could do to honour the loss, and respect and acknowledge the right of their friends and families to grieve.
Music for this post – I went back and forth trying to decide what would best suit this post and I finally decided on Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me In Your Heart’ . I hope the friends and families of those who passed on will hold close to any good memories they have.
A quick bit of research revealed that most online organizations have, or are in the process of implementing, policies that deal with death and the internet. I think they still have a long way to go. Perhaps in the future instead of sifting through ancient tombs to explore history, archaeologists will have to recreate ancient operating systems and applications to access first hand knowledge of life (and death) during the birth of the digital age.