How Facebook handles death

Death is a universal fact of life. Today our virtual avatars and digital assets spread across cyberspace are as ingrained a part of our existence – and they will outlive us. But what happens to these assets when we inevitably log off this mortal coil? Our project team have designed an awareness campaign on Facebook targeting those aged between 25s and 35s to put the spotlight on some of these issues to start a conversation on how we might improve our digital (after)lives. 


Max Mitchell – Management with Innovation

Xan Seymour – History  with Innovation


We were inspired to explore the issue of digital death for several reasons but largely because of the universal appeal of the subject. Society’s handling of death through time often reflects many of the attitudes and values of our day – for instance green burial options express contemporary desires to care for the planet. Our experiences of dealing with death on Facebook through memorialized profiles and groups, the behaviors therein, design choices and ethical issues have made for rich and engaging area for research. 


Initially we explored a broad range of ideas and possibilities in the area of death. Once we had settled on working on digital death we researched issues associated with the implications of digital death and Facebook’s present policies and designs. By discussing our own experiences, talking to experts in the field and reviewing literature on the subject we were able to summarize the key problems posed by digital death on Facebook, test, refine and deliver an awareness campaign to engage our target audience and spark a conversation. 


People aged between 25 and 35 are likely to be acquiring a whole host of new responsibilities that largely fall under the guise of ‘settling down’. Despite these pressures many have made little to no provision for what they want done with their digital assets in the event of their death. The number of Facebook’s current living users (the majority of which are in this demographic) will ultimately be dwarfed by the dead. We need to take responsibility for how our online services handle death as it a certainty that companies will be taking charge of our digital destinies. 


This awareness campaign will facilitate a conversation between our target demographic and the broader issues at play in Facebook’s management of digital death. From user feedback on our campaign we will be able to make our campaign a force for change by giving a solid presence to issues that are abstract and often overlooked. In the future we hope that we can change the way Facebook handle death on their platform through various types of design tweaks and policy changes for the benefit of the user.