By Kara Apel, Editor of The Leader
Millions of people turn to Facebook during their most joyous moments – and their most painful. Facebook has added updates to its platform in hopes of offering more support to family members and friends as they grieve the death of a loved one.
In a recent blog post, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg noted that the changes stem from feedback the company has received from users and experts from different religions and cultures.
“We’re grateful to them for helping us understand how we can build more tools to help people find comfort in times of grief,” Sandberg wrote.
According to the company, more than 30 million Facebook users view memorialized profiles every month.
Facebook is releasing a new tributes section for accounts that have been memorialized. Users will now be able to post content on a separate tab of a memorialized profile, but the deceased person’s original timeline will still be preserved.
Going forward, Facebook will only allow family and friends of the deceased to request for an account to be memorialized. This allows them to decide when it’s appropriate to move forward with the process.
Allison Walden, the office manager at Downing & Lahey Mortuary in Wichita, KS, said Facebook frequently comes up in conversations with guests at their funeral home.
“Guests ask us questions about how they can close out their mother’s and father’s Facebook accounts after they have passed away. We’d love to have more resources and information to be able to tell them how to do this because we’re not quite sure either,” Walden said.
Mollie Lacher, founder of Sunny Care Services, helps her clients navigate the loss of a loved one and takes over the necessary, time-consuming tasks associated with a death. After experiencing the loss of her own father and struggling to settle his affairs, she started her business to help others in the same situation.
Lacher was shocked and devastated to be tagged in a photo by her father’s Facebook account a couple months ago – seven years after his death.
“It’s moments like that when you forget they’ve passed away,” Lacher said. “It’s painful all over again to be reminded of that.”
After that incident, Lacher knew she needed to work with Facebook to shut down her father’s account. Even though she frequently helps families with this process, she said it was complicated and convoluted.
“These very out-of-the-blue, shocking reminders are not necessary,” she said. “It just feels like you go into a dark head space.”
Facebook claims it is also working to improve its artificial intelligence capabilities to protect family members from unnecessary suffering and prevent situations like what happened to Lacher. The company dedicated an entire team to train its AI system to understand what users do and do not want to see.
Sandberg shared in her blog: “If an account hasn’t yet been memorialized, we use AI to help keep it from showing up in places that might cause distress, like recommending that person be invited to events or sending a birthday reminder to their friends. We’re working to get better and faster at this.”
It’s important for deathcare professionals to understand that this will be a concern for the families they serve.
“Funeral homes should be addressing this important issue in arrangements, and on resources like their company Facebook page and website,” said Courtney Gould Miller, head of digital for MKJ Marketing. “Pointing families to step-by-step instructions, like this blog on SunnyCare’s website, gives them the answers they need to navigate this challenge.”
Facebook is also offering more control to users who have been chosen as a “legacy contact.” The company rolled out the legacy contact feature in 2015, which allows a user to decide who will be able to administer their account after they die.
As part of the update, legacy contacts will be able to moderate the posts within the new tributes section of memorialized accounts. They will be able to edit who can see posts and can remove tags. Parents dealing with the loss of a child under the age of 18 will now be able to request to become the legacy contact for their child’s account. Currently, minors cannot designate legacy contacts on the platform.