You’re dead to me: Facebook prank shows how social media is (still) bad at death

Have you ever told someone they’re dead to you? Now, you can make it happen — on Facebook(s fb) at least. BuzzFeed reports that it’s, well, dead easy to turn someone’s Facebook profile into a frozen memorial page.

It works like this: simply send the email address of your friend (or enemy) along with an obituary showing a similar name and, voila, they’re on the other side. In the case of BuzzFeed, the site killed off its New York reporter John Herrman by sending Facebook an obituary for a 78 year old Nebraskan “John Herrmann” (two N’s) from last June. Such pranks mean your victim must spend hours or days persuading Facebook that they’re still here.Facebook memorial screenshot

We can assume Facebook is scrambling to fix this mess and, to be fair, this isn’t really the social network’s fault since this sort of trick can be played off-line too (for instance, Israel’s Mossad has printed obituaries of still-living militants it was hunting). But the Facebook prank does illustrate yet again how the social and legal rituals that accompany death in the real world can carry over poorly to the digital realm.

Other examples include the impermanence of photos as well as licensing rules that mean you can’t pass on iTunes and other digital content in your will. It may be a matter of time before state governments — who have long made rules about things like wills, cemeteries and death certificates — begin to update these rules for the era of social media. But for now, many death rituals will be determined by the young men who run tech companies.

(Image by Stocksnapper via Shutterstock)