Raising the Dead on Social Networks

December 11, 2011 · 8 comments in Social Media,tech business

Marc Orchant was my friend. He made a single statement that may have saved Global Neighbourhoods from becoming yet another failed book project. In March 2005, Scoble and I talked our publisher, Jon Wiley into hiring Marc as our editor.

Thirty days later, Robert and I had not yet produced a single chapter to edit. In fact, we had not filed a single word. We were too busy fighting like Oscar and Felix in the Odd Couple. We disagreed on everything about the book, including the title, the language the writing process and inadvertently, we had placed Marc in between us like a ping pong ball between two paddles.

Marc called me late on a Sunday afternoon to inform me that he was resigning from the project. “You guys don’t need an editor,” he told me. “You need a marriage counsellor.” Marc’s resignation jarred Robert and I into the reality of our situation and we started collaborating in earnest. We produced a pretty good book and I told Marc that we owed him a debt of gratitude for the wake up call.

Marc died suddenly on Dec. 2, leaving a wonderful wife and two kids. I think of Marc from time-to-time, as most people remember friends who have gone, but I had no plans to share this story, until Twitter today, recommend that I follow Marc. I clicked on it, and saw that his last tweet is still in December 2009.  As I thought about it, I realized that I almost certainly still follow Marc. It shouldn’t matter because he is not posting and most of us don’t think to unfriend and unfollow people we care about when they die.

I did mention the incident on Twitter and Facebook and received several comments on people who have had similar experiences. Deb McAllister mentioned she had received a similar invite from Facebook on the first anniversary of her friend’s death.

Deb and I and other people who share similar experiences will survive the little twinges of sorrow that such macabre reminders cause. The question is why should we?

It should be a pretty simple process to take down all accounts that remain inactive for a period of time–let’s say 90 days. The social networks do not need to investigate why an account goes inactive, but if someone does not use their account for 90 days, it should be classified as inactive and not be counted.  Accounts that have gone dormant should certainly not be recommended to active users at any time for any reason.

So why doesn’t Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other socnets exercise the good taste and sensitivity to quietly de-active aging dormant accounts?

I don’t know the answer but I suspect it is headcount. There is news value and ad revenue attached to headcount. It can impact investment dollars and company valuations. For us users, such practices may be sad reminders of people who we’ve lost for some company decision makers, it can be a case of the more the merrier–or least the more lucrative.

They used to call Chicago’s election day “Resurrection Day,” because it was when the dead would rise to vote–often several times. It explains such mismatches that have Twitter claiming 200 million users, while others estimate those who are active at closer to 80 million.

It might also explain why Facebook claims the incredible number of 800 million accounts, or about one in seven people on Earth. The percentage grows higher very fast when you start deducting people who have no electricity, are illiterate, old, infirm, under the age of 10 or perhaps just, plain dead.

With Facebook’s estimates being generally regarded as true, I begin to wonder when they will have more users, than the Earth has people.

As for me, I have to admit, I’m just a bit thankful. I was reminded of someone who I really liked and how his one-liner very likely changed the course of my life while demonstrating a great example of what we would soon call a naked conversation.



MA Deviah December 12, 2011 at 9:10 pm

This is nothing. In India dead people routinely vote, collect pensions, and even receive food grains at subsidized prices through government ration shops. Sometimes, I wonder at our billion population. An ongoing attempt to assign unique identity numbers to every Indian citizen using biometrics is being sabotaged by crook politicians why use dead people and their relatives as vote banks.

Deviah December 12, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Sorry about the typos.

Shel Israel December 12, 2011 at 9:28 pm

My friend, I have a master’s degree in typos. Yours reveal passion when you type. No need to apologize here.

Laura Good December 12, 2011 at 9:34 am

I’m planning to put all my social media credentials together to be used by a trusted family member in the event of my death to take care of my accounts. I have several acquaintances who have passed away who still pop up from time to time on Facebook and LinkedIn. It can be a little unsettling, especially when they’ve been gone for a couple of years.

Angelique December 12, 2011 at 8:01 am

Facebook now has a “memorial page” feature. When someone dies, the person who wants to administer the memorial page submits the person’s Facebook profile URL and proof of death on this page: http://www.facebook.com/help/contact.php?show_form=deceased

There’s one catch: You also have to submit the account’s email address. That might take quite some investigating, depending on whether the person who died left behind emergency information for his or her family, or whether the next of kin are at all tech-savvy.

I like the ninety-day rule, but not for permanently closing accounts. I think after ninety days of silence, a Facebook or Twitter account should not be recommended to others. This way people who are recovering from an accident, or people who had accounts opened for them by others before they were ready to handle them, won’t lose those accounts.

shelisrael December 12, 2011 at 9:19 am

Why put the onus on the survivers? I think that the Memorial Page is little more than lip-service that will be used by a single-digit percentage of the survivors. Facebook, et al, should deactivate a user account after a given period of time. It shows respect for those who have lost someone and it gives the rest of us more accurate user numbers.

Garth Beyer December 11, 2011 at 8:14 pm

You post got me thinking..

All of us TRUE writers are trying to provide the most solid content for our readers. We care not about headcount, number of tweets, etc. What matters is how many heads have a mind to voice their thoughts and reactions to our work. What matters is how many people the tweet truly touches.

It is about time that the social networks begin implementing the same mind-set. Not only would it give them further credibility and overall strength, but it would provide us (Writers) the chance to really connect with our readers. Half our energy is used trying to connect with the 200 followers on Twitter that are completely inactive.

A balance needs to be reached and there is no way that people are going to settle for social media noise. Content is a necessity just as TRUE followers are.

Stay Positive and Stay Content-Orientated
- Garth E. Beyer

Stephanie Booth December 11, 2011 at 6:13 pm

You know, I don’t think that it’s an altogether bad thing that we are confronted every now and again to the traces our dead loved ones left online. I do agree that social networks, however, should have the good taste to know when somebody is alive or dead (I know it’s possible to archive accounts on Facebook when the owner has passed away). So yeah, messages like “hey, you haven’t spoken to X in some time” or “why don’t you follow Z” are a bit out of tune.

When somebody dies, offline, we are reminded of him or her when we go to places that are connected to that person for us, when we stumble upon something that reminds us of them, when there is an occasion they should have been present for… It hurts, but that’s also how we move forward in the grieving process. Hurting is what happens when we’re forced to accept their absence.

Over time, as we accept more and more, it hurts less and less. And it’s good, in a way, to be reminded of those who have left — as you say yourself.

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