Digital Ghosts – Something creepy this way comes

2 Aug
My ghost by mattwi1s0n

My ghost by mattwi1s0n

Here are two topics that I’ve been following coming together in a creepy, creepy way: social automation and social network profiles that remain after death.

I’ve been thinking about social media automation for a while now as it’s been cropping up more and more in discussions of personal branding and social media marketing.  Although automated social media may seem to be a bit of an oxymoron (how can you be social if you’re not actually participating?), it’s definitely the future, especially for celebrity and corporate presences on social networks.

Blue orange green technical abstract, Digital DNA, City of Palo Alto, Art in Public Places, 9.01.05, California, USA 9364 by Wonderlane

Blue orange green technical abstract, Digital DNA, City of Palo Alto, Art in Public Places, 9.01.05, California, USA 9364 by Wonderlane

Like most things in life, half of success in social media is just showing up.  Another big part of it is actually being there and being engaged.   Retweeting.  Liking.  Responding to comments.  But social media isn’t 9 to 5.  It’s 24/7.  Facebook doesn’t take a vacation from you, but your Klout score will go down if you take a vacation from it.  Social automation will mean that you’re “there” even when you’re not.  “You” will be liking, tweeting, and commenting, without you actually having to do anything.  (For more on social automation, check out Mashable’s article “Sharepocalypse Now: Why Social Media Overload Means New Opportunities for Startups”, which defines social automation as “Services that help to automate activity in social networks, like automatically updating your status, helping to increase your influence, suggesting what to share, matchmaking, alerting, and using bots to intelligently interact with and assist users.”)

We were ghosts by Genista

We were ghosts by Genista

As to social media after you’re gone, it’s a strange and uncomfortable thing to consider, but the more people that join social networking sites (and, let’s be honest, the aging of the population engaged in social media usage), the more and more profiles that there will be for dead people.  At some point, we’ll reach a point when more than 50% of Facebook profiles are for people that are no longer alive.  Combining CDC stats, and Facebook age and growth demographics, I’m sure that someone can figure it out , but I’ve spent enough time in Excel for today.  (For more on social media after you’re gone, read my post “There are three things in life you can’t escape — death, Facebook, and taxes”.)

Ready for the real creepiness?  Click play.

Too long, didn’t watch?  Mashable’s Adam Ostrow talks about a future in which he predicts “… it’s going to become possible for our digital personas to continue to interact in the real world long after we’re gone thanks to the vastness of the amount of content that we’re creating and technology’s ability to make sense of it all.”

the ghosts in the machine by MelvinSchlubman

the ghosts in the machine by MelvinSchlubman

He discusses how, through social media, we’re leaving so much data about ourselves, our personalities, our likes, dislikes, and word choices that computers will learn to predict what we will say in any given situation.  I’ve written before about how we’re all writing our own autobiographies (“Social Media and the Art of Storytelling”).   But Mr. Ostrow takes it one step further: he believes that computers will be able to take the biographical footprints that we’re leaving all over the internet and create something even greater than a static memorial.

Mr. Ostrow says, “Today we’re all creating this incredibly rich digital archive that’s going to live in the cloud indefinitely after we’re gone.”  And because our information will live indefinitely, we, (or at least a version of us), will live indefinably, too.

Albus Dumbledore portrait

Portrait of Albus Dumbledore, from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Dorkyness warning: I’m picturing this as a kind of digital version of the portraits of the former headmasters of Hogwarts.  They can talk and interact with you, they can even learn and adapt to new information, but their personalities always remain the same.  They can’t enter the physical world and are bound to the canvas, er… screen.

It’s weird to think about interacting with the digital ghost (for lack of a better term) of a loved one.  Will by aunt’s digital ghost continue to like my vacation pictures long after she’s gone?  (Not that there’s anything wrong with any of my aunts, many of whom read this blog and are now probably wondering whom I’m writing about…)  It’s even weirder to think of two or more digital ghosts interacting with each other.  Will another friend’s digital ghost continue to wish her husband a happy anniversary years after they’re both dead?  Will my friend’s digital ghost post an event invitation for an annual party?  Will my digital ghost RSVP yes, as I always do?

Well, this post raises a lot more questions than answers…

So, questions of the day:  What do you think?  Is this what’s coming?  Will my digital ghost continue this blog?  Will yours keep commenting?

MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole.  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. 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

15 Responses to “Digital Ghosts – Something creepy this way comes”

  1. georgettesullins August 3, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    This is in a word…fascinating. Can’t wait to share this with some folks I know to get them to weigh in on this…in conversation, not the web… I do enjoy your site because you certainly make me think of things that are already here, are coming, and a future I haven’t thought about. Great piece, MaggieCakes. I have recommended your site in two comments in the last week.
    Sooo…tell me more about this Klout score? You mentioned it in your comment to me recently. I learn so much from you.

    • Maggie O'Toole August 4, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

      Thanks! A Klout score is a measure of your social media influence. Although the system’s still kind of shaky (I can’t connect this blog, so it doesn’t count toward my influence — which I think is entirely unfair!), quantification of influence is definitely coming, so I’m playing with Klout (and by playing I mean trying desperately to increase my score) to learn more about it. Don’t worry, there’ll be another post about it soon.

      • georgettesullins August 4, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

        Thanks, I am definitely looking forward to it.

      • georgettesullins September 4, 2011 at 9:28 am #

        Question: Can all those words we type into cyberspace live beyond us? Can the system “attic” sustain all this?

        PPS I figured out the Klout score…I’m a 10. Believe it or not I’m pretty influential in what I do…is it only calculated on “tweets” and “fb”…then I understand such a pitiful, yes, pitiful score. I remain undaunted and really like who I am, not the # I am. Due to the sensitive and yes, influential nature of what I do, I don’t ever refer to it on the internet. How I would love to be included in the Klout roundtable…I know I have input that can’t be overlooked…pretty cocky of me, huh?

  2. lewismead August 3, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    I think the real creepy thing is the amount of information that advertising companies have on us from every single source. If you ever notice as soon as you update your Facebook status relating to for example, exercise, a mass of exercise based ads will be popping up.

    But it goes deeper still. Presumably most people use the same email for a range of things, Facebook, Twitter, Forums, WordPress as well as actually emailing friends and receiving emails from companies you have signed up too. So technically (as Google uses our emails to personalise ads, Facebook does the same too) you could receive an email from a forum you’re on with a PM from a member talking about gaming, Google would then have access to this, which means that with a bit of digging Facebook do too.

    Now that in my opinion is truly creepy, the amount of personal information that companies have on us is frightening, think of everything you have ever said on the internet, kept, stored and used to develop an understanding of who you are. And this is where it all links into your point of “digital ghosts”.

    • Maggie O'Toole August 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

      I’ll admit, I run AdBlock so I don’t see any adds on Facebook. Yes, yes, I know it’s a terrible thing for an internet marketing person to admit, but I just can’t deal with all of the Catholic singles adds…

      You’re right about Google knowing everything! I was listening to one of the Slate podcasts a few weeks back. They were talking about G+ and one of their hosts (sorry, I forget who!) said something like, “Google accurately estimated by distrust of Facebook, but way underestimated my distrust of Google.” Totally how I feel.

  3. Vicki - Glitter Frog July 31, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    I actually have two friends on Facebook that have passed away. I can’t bring myself to unfriend them! I don’t know why. Occasionally, one of their husbands will post something on the deceased’s profile and I’ll tell ya what…it freaks me OUT. I’m also really careful not to ever invite either one of them to anything. Again, I don’t really know why. Maybe I’m afraid they’ll accept.

    • Maggie O'Toole August 1, 2012 at 9:35 am #

      Does the husband post something on your friend’s wall or as your friend? I guess that’s what makes the difference for me. The only times I the resurgence of deceased people’s Facebook profiles are on the anniversaries of their death’s. Usually, so many friends leave comments, that it pushes them to my top news. Since I’ve been thinking about EdgeRank recently, here’s what I’m wondering: will enough of your friends interacting with a dead person’s profile ever cause Facebook to prompt you to friend them?

      • Vicki - Glitter Frog August 1, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

        He posts as himself, but that doesn’t lessen the creepiness at all. He found an old video she had made for her nursing program and posted it on her wall, as well as his own wall, where he tagged her in it. CUH-REEPY.

  4. roll off dumpsters March 2, 2013 at 5:50 am #

    When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox
    and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

  5. our site August 10, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

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  6. pirater un facebook April 18, 2014 at 4:54 am #

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  1. Digital Doppelgangers – Who said you needed to be dead to have a ghost? « MaggieCakes - August 3, 2011

    […] The digital ghosts I was talking about yesterday?  They’re social media bots; but unlike those programmed to get your credit card number (yes, those really do exist, no conspiracy theory necessary), they’re programmed to be you.  True digital ghosts would be you faithfully and hopefully disinterestedly – although I’m sure there’s a way for someone to make money off of them.  (After all why else would people bother to program them? ) Would you pay to speak to your friend one last time?  Would you pay to get advice from your dead father?  (My Dad called today saying that he’d read my last post.  He was like, “Just think, now I’ll be able to give you my opinions about whatever you do forever!”  Pass…) Okay, so clearly a BuffyBot reference belongs in this post somewhere, but I just couldn't seem to work it in. Too much background information required. So here's the reference, get it if you will. […]

  2. Dawn of the Facebook Dead | Maggie (Not Margaret) - February 21, 2013

    […] of social automation leading to digital dopplegangers who stayed around long after our deaths (Digital Ghosts – Something creepy this way comes).  Looks like I’m not the only one who’s been thinking about this […]

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