Move fast with broken things

Move fast with broken things
Photo by Deeksha Pahariya / Unsplash

Today I got an instagram comment on a very old photo, so I popped over to see it was spam and deleted it. But then I noticed I linked to my cousin by name in the photo, and he died unexpectedly a few years ago, so I went to his profile to check it out. Nothing since he shocked everyone just before covid hit by going to take a nap and never waking up, despite being in fairly good shape and only in his 50s (a later autopsy revealed he had late stage lung cancer that was undiagnosed).

From his instagram, I followed a link to his Facebook profile, and since he didn't have much of a web presence, pretty much all his time was spent on Facebook. I expected to see his profile frozen in amber but strangely, on his birthday each year in early June, there were dozens of jubilant happy birthday comments from his Facebook friends. Scrolling back, you see the same pattern every year in June, dozens of people shouting happy birthday with happy emoji and GIFs and images.

If you scroll back far enough, you see his first post-mortem birthday is more somber, as people say they miss him, and a few posts before that is photos from his memorial.

I know Facebook has "this user has died" features, but it's tough to prove to Facebook and if I remember correctly you have to contact a certain team and share a death certificate and published newspaper obits.

I've worked on social networks before and you don't want to accidentally mark a living person as deceased, but it sure does suck when the flip side of that situation happens thousands of times. I used to have an old online friend that Facebook would dutifully remind me of his birthday every year for over 10 years after his death.

My cousin worked in Hollywood as a prop master and knew hundreds of people from film and TV, and it's clear from the euphoric birthday posts his old contacts might not know he passed away four years ago. Facebook keeps pushing notifications on others, and I'm sure the recipients thought huh, I haven't heard from him in years, I might as well push this button to post something nice so he knows I'm thinking of him.

It's weird Facebook keeps doing this to his profile each year. It's quite likely his account hasn't logged into anything since shortly after his memorial service when someone in the family posted photos and flyers from the event. And I get why Facebook would pressure users into feeling some serious FOMO, about how you're missing dozens of notifications and you really should come back to Facebook to check back in.

But it sucks seeing this reminder every year from well-intentioned people that probably just don't know he died years ago. I wish Facebook was better about these kinds of sensitive issues.