Living

Sonya Sorich: Leaving a Facebook legacy

When Facebook told me to say hello to my former editor, it probably didn't know he was dead.

I didn't know, either.

But when I followed a digital suggestion to write on his Facebook wall, I found an announcement that he'd died.

In retrospect, it wasn't too surprising that I learned the news in such an impersonal manner. We worked together briefly, but hadn't spoken in years.

"Maybe learning about someone's death on Facebook isn't too weird after all," I told a friend later that afternoon.

If I hadn't checked the social media site, I likely would have brought up my former editor's name in conversation with a mutual friend months later. That, in turn, would have required the awkwardness of a face-to-face death announcement.

I never posted on his wall. I never sent a sympathy card to his family. But I haven't forgotten the moment when I learned about his death.

The memory resurfaced last week, when I found an Associated Press story detailing a debate over whether someone's Facebook page should be part of his or her digital estate.

The article raises a broader question: What should happen to your Facebook page when you die?

Of course, Facebook has a standard procedure. Upon receiving a death report, Facebook turns that person's page into a memorial.

"Certain information is removed, and privacy is restricted to friends only. The profile and wall are left up so friends and loved ones can make posts in remembrance," the Associated Press notes.

When my former editor died, it wasn't the first time I visited a dead person's Facebook page. It's now standard procedure for journalists to check a victim's Facebook page in a tragedy's aftermath.

Most of us join Facebook to enhance what we experience in the present and reconnect with people from our past. The future -- how our posts will be interpreted when we're no longer around to explain them -- is generally not a concern.

Maybe that's changing. When I asked about Facebook and death on the Ledger's Facebook page, one reader mentioned fine-tuning her timeline "so that someday the children can look back on it and enjoy."

The lesson? As our circle of acquaintances expands, so does the likelihood that a Facebook page will play a role explaining our legacy.

One more thing: Your friends won't be around forever. Don't schedule your communication around reminders from Facebook.

Sonya Sorich can be reached at ssorich@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8516.

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