There are three things in life you can’t escape — death, Facebook, and taxes

8 Jun

Graph showing amount of dead people with Facebook AccountsAt work the other day, I was working on a presentation about social media, its various mediums, and their uses.  While searching (in vain) for a clear graphic showing a change in the age demographics of Facebook users (Yes, I know, boring.  But, the point of this presentation is that, you, too, Mr. 50-year-old CPA, can do social networking), I came across this post on the growing number of Facebook accounts for the dead

Using Facebook demographics and CDC predictions of death by age (your tax dollars at work!), they predict that 1 – 1.5 million Facebook users will die in 2010.  (It’s an old post.  Sorry).  That seems like a crazy number, but their math seems accurate.  And, this number will only increase as more and more people join Facebook and the average age of Facebook users climbs.  A Facebook full of grandparents has a lot higher death rate than a Facebook full of college students – for some reason, I think I should leave that bit of information out of my presentation to the accountants.  But really, I want to be able to use the title of this post as a line in my presentation!

So, aside from (initially) shocking numbers, what does this all mean? 1000 Memories, the site that posted this (which I think is a site about memorializing the dead, so fair warning), has this to say:

As social media grows and the time we have left shrinks, death on the Internet needs to, and will, become more normal. The temporal and ephemeral tweet about “eating cereal for breakfast” needs also to be a part of something more substantial, helping our family, friends and future generations remember us not just from our “status” and activities but in the full richness of the photos, stories and relationships that capture our lives.

You’ve probably seen me gush on and on about social media’s implications for future historical research, but it’s not judge cold distant “future people”, that will have access to our social media leavings, but “future people” that will care about us, too.  Imagine in you could “go back in time” and read status updates your grandparents posted when they were falling in love.  Or, if you never knew your parents and could connect with them through reading, for the first time, their own words.

On a slightly more morbid note, how do you know when a Facebook user dies?  Could you be trying to friend someone of write on their wall, getting frustrated when you don’t get a response, only to find out that they’re dead?  Two people that I went to high school with died in the last few years.  One of them was an active Facebook user whose wall was then filled with hundreds of RIP type comments.  (This posts seemed creepy and slightly attention seeking to me, but oh well.)  The other was almost never on Facebook and never posted.  As it wasn’t really part of who she was, no one memorialized her on there.  I went to her page a few days after she died and it looked like she was still there and just hadn’t updated it a while. 

Do we need to find a way to indicate someone’s death on Facebook?  Is their last status updates always “___________ has died”?  I told someone about this article the other day, and they suggested that maybe there should be a button to report to Facebook that someone died.  Once so many friends have reported a person, Facebook changes the status of their account to inactive or something like that.  Of course this could lead to one of the worst/best pranks ever.  (“Hi Facebook, this is Maggie.  I’m not dead.  Thanks.)

Friends, Roman, Countymen, what do you think?  (And sorry for the lack of pictures.  I know it’ll hurt my SEO.  But, this was a really hard topic to find pictures (that weren’t too morbid) for.)

MaggieCakes is a blog about culture, social media, and what’s new on the Internet culture. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about Internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. MaggieCakes is hosted by WordPress and often draws upon Slate, Jezebel, The Hair Pin, and SocialTimes for links and inspiration. My post Social Media and the Art of Storytelling was featured on Freshly Pressed, bringing a whole new readership to my blog. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

7 Responses to “There are three things in life you can’t escape — death, Facebook, and taxes”

  1. bridgesburning June 8, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    See I am not sure it is morbid. FB has become a communication tool and a way to say good bye also I think.
    But you are right..someone has to close it down after a time.

    • Maggie June 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

      You’re right that it’s a good way to say good bye. In that sense, writing on a Facebook wall may be no different than signing the book at the funeral home. (Does that book have a name? I always just think of it as the book that my Mom signs for us.)

  2. Maggie June 8, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    After posting, I realized that I may have been a little too oblique with the Friends, Roman, Countrymen reference.

    “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
    I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;
    So let it be with Caesar.”

    A Facebook legacy that remains after our death make sure that our good (well, our good status updates anyway) isn’t interred with our bones. Who knew that you could apply Shakespeare to Facebook? (My high school English teachers would be so proud.)

  3. Eileen June 8, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

    When my twenty year old nephew died in an accident, his cell phone and FB needed to be dealt with for days. Imagine the horror of his sister sitting on their front porch answering this really active guy’s cell phone for days, “No this is his sister, I’m sorry to say he has died”. FB was the same, friends posting “Where are you ?” “Why haven’t you been around?”
    It was then I realized the shift in communication/social networking. This was how this generation connects. Notice I didn’t say anything about texting? He died 3 years ago and did not use texting. Can you imagine that now?
    His FB page remains active with comments and people comforting his family, another was started just as a tribute.

    • Maggie June 14, 2011 at 8:24 pm #

      I can’t imagine having to go through that if someone in my family died. I’m sure it took a really long time for the news to reach all his friends, too. Those terrible/awkward calls probably went on for weeks.

  4. tenraikenshin June 9, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

    I’ve given this subject some thought from time to time as well, and I heartily agree with you. I’m thrilled about the type of legacy my facebook, twitter, and blog will leave behind and I hope that it is able to give my children, grandchildren, etc., a sense of honor and even direction. We truly have no idea how powerful these tools can potentially be.

    • Maggie June 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      Taking the legacy into account, maybe I need to be a little more careful about what I post. But, hey, I already know that my Mom’s reading it and that doesn’t stop me.

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