Facebook Using AI to Stop Notifications about Dead Friends

April 10, 2019

Social media is an integral part of most people’s lives. And as we all know, anything posted on social media lives there forever. So what does this mean when someone who you’ve been connected with on Facebook or other social platforms dies?

What happens with their content? Their online persona? Their legacy?

Facebook is trying to help eliminate issues surrounding the process of what happens to someone’s account and the memories that live on it long after they die. 

What changes will Facebook make with AI regarding deceased user profiles?

  • Adding a Tributes section to profiles
  • Additional controls for Legacy Contacts
  • Memorialization tracking

Combatting grief through artificial intelligence

Facebook announced that they will be using artificial intelligence software to combat grief-inducing memories of people who have passed away and whose accounts are still accessible on the platform. 

See the Easiest-to-Use Artificial Intelligence Software...

This announcement is not the first of its kind to come out of Facebook.

Nearly a decade ago, Facebook introduced the concept of memorializing accounts of the deceased as a way to stop prompting friends and family members to “reconnect” because they “hadn’t spoken in a while.” In 2015, Facebook introduced the Legacy Contact feature, which allows living users to dedicate a trusted individual to log in to their account and take control of their content if or when the assignee passes away. 

Despite the options to memorialize an account and/or assign a Legacy Contact to one’s profile as a preventative measure, there have still been gaps in ensuring that deceased individuals have their lives and legacies properly handled in their absence.

Issues with memorializing Facebook accounts

Facebook’s Help Center is saturated with FAQs about memorialized accounts. Questions from “What will happen [if] I pass away?”; “Why is this profile no longer active?”; and “Can I add/remove content from a [deceased person’s] Facebook page?” are just a few samples of user-generated inquires about the processes that occur when a person dies and leaves their social media accounts behind.

These FAQs are accessible via the Memorialization Request form and on the Help Center itself.

Until this most recent announcement, anyone could memorialize a person’s Facebook account, regardless of relationship. The process by which a person can request an account to be memorialized is rather simple and impersonal.  

The Memorialization Request page is dense with information about what happens when an account is memorialized, warnings that memorialization is a big, irreversible decision, and reminders that ultimately, the individual or their Legacy Contact (should one exist) has final say on what happens with the person’s account.  

Facebook memorialization request

Image courtesy of Facebook

The above image shows that anyone can submit the memorialization request form, even if they were a distant friend, coworker, or extended relative of the deceased – something that Facebook will be changing in 2019.

What’s changing in 2019, and where does AI factor in?

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wrote a blog post highlighting all of the changes to come to Facebook regarding how it manages profiles of the deceased while maintaining a personal touch despite relying on AI to assist with the process. 

In short, the key factors changing on Facebook are as follows:

Using AI to identify profiles of the deceased

Facebook will be using artificial intelligence to identify profiles of users who have died, but whose profiles have not yet been changed to a Memorialization page. If a deceased person’s profile page is not memorialized by a family member or friend, the user will appear in searches, their birthdate reminders will be sent out to all of their Facebook friends, and they will be visible in lists to invite them to events, games, and other related content.  

AI will know that the person has died despite the lack of memorialization on their page, and make sure not to include them in search functions or other memory-triggering capacities on the site.

This is being implemented in order to streamline the process of easing family members and friends’ pain.

Introducing the “Tributes” section on a memorialized profile

As opposed to the longstanding post-to-profile function that looks and behaves the same as an active Facebook user’s wall does, Tributes expands on this concept by existing as a distinctly separate tab on memorialized profiles. This tab will be specifically for memories, stories, milestones, and other moments that are of heightened importance surrounding the user’s life and death. 

facebook tribute wall page

Image courtesy of Facebook

Additional controls for Legacy Contacts

In addition to the controllable features Legacy Contacts are granted by the deceased user, Facebook is expanding the controls Legacy Contacts have regarding the deceased’s page and content.  

Now, Legacy Contacts will be able to moderate posts on the person’s profile by changing, removing, or editing who can tag the deceased in posts, pictures, or memories. The Legacy Contact can also monitor who can post at all or view others’ posts. 

These new controls build on existing controls, but help the Legacy Contact to manage sensitive content posted by others that family members or close friends may not yet be ready to see.  

Additionally, in cases of children who have died, Facebook has not yet implemented a Legacy Contact function for minors; however, an update to their policy includes allowing parents of deceased minors to request Legacy Contact status for them.  

Grief in the age of social media

While Facebook is attempting to alleviate some of the grief that comes along with losing a loved one, even artificial intelligence cannot eliminate grief entirely. And though everyone grieves differently, social media provides family and friends an opportunity to revisit wonderful memories of those who have passed on, no matter how long they’ve been gone.  

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