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Facebook to save profiles of deceased

Death doesn't erase the online footprints that people leave in life, and now Facebook won't either.


The five-year-old social network will ""memorialize"" profiles of the dead if their friends or family request it.

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Such accounts will be different from regular Facebook profiles.


For example, the site will remove any contact information and bar people from logging in. The person's profile also won't appear in the ""suggestions"" section of Facebook, and only the deceased person's confirmed friends will be able to find them in a search.


The development comes as Facebook becomes an important social hub for its more than 300 million active users worldwide to keep up with friends and family.


Writing on Facebook's official blog, employee Max Kelly said the question of how to deal with death in a virtual world hit home quickly when one his best friends and fellow Facebook employees was killed in a bicycle accident.


""The question soon came up: What do we do about his Facebook profile? We had never really thought about this before in such a personal way,"" wrote Kelly, Facebook's director of security. ""Obviously, we wanted to be able to model people's relationships on Facebook, but how do you deal with an interaction with someone who is no longer able to log on?""


Patti Harada, who teaches Psychology of Death and Loss at the UA, called Facebook's decision to memorialize pages ""wonderful.""


""It helps keep that person alive,"" said Harada, who is a grief and trauma counselor and adjunct faculty member in the psychology department.


""We know the person has died, but most people are so afraid of disturbing the comfort zone of other people they don't ask, ‘How are you doing since (so-and-so) died?'""


Harada said the Facebook memorials fit in with a trend of mortuaries, cemetaries and also newspapers opening Web pages dedicated to the deceased.


Web memorials encourage people to talk about and remember loved ones who have passed on, which is an important part of the grieving process, she said.


""It brings them back for a short time,"" she said. ""It gives you people you know you can talk to about them, to know you're not the only one who remembers they were really here.""


Anita Atwell Seate, a Ph.D. student in the UA department of communication, said Facebook played an important part in the grieving process when one of her own friends died last month. Family and friends turned the deceased's Facebook page into an online memorial, posting pictures and memories.


""The family was really appreciative of the effort,"" said Seate, who is conducting thesis research on social networking sites, such as Facebook.


Seate said Facebook's decision to memorialize the pages of deceased users was an example of how social networking can play a positive role in people's lives.


""You need face-to-face interaction. But I think that can definitely be supported with computer interaction,"" she said. ""If you see people understand what you're going through and can provide social support, it's something all of you can use. So from the social support aspect, I'm sure it's quite beneficial.""


By press time Tuesday night, the Facebook blog post with the memorial's announcement had drawn 564 comments.


While most commenters used the space to complain about changes to Facebook's news feed, those who stuck to the blog's topic agreed with the idea in principle.


""I think that is a very sweet idea. I like it,"" wrote user Marla Gusler Holman.


Others had reservations.


""How is FB protecting against pranks and false claims of death? What about a friend's simple good intentions that go against what a family wants? Also, why are status updates deleted?"" wrote user Joanna Choy. ""Does FB honor an ‘e-will' about what to do with FB profiles? That seems like a good idea. This FB policy needs more thought and/or more explanation.""



—The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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