09/10/2012 16:22 | By Rob Clymo, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

What happens to your Facebook account when you die?

What happens with a Facebook profile after you're gone?

Facebook is never far from our smartphones, tablets or laptop screens, but it seemed like a very long way away when I first read the news about a friend of mine. Tragically, he'd been killed in Afghanistan and, unfortunately, I first got to read the news in a plane midway across the channel, en route to Luxembourg of all places.

What happens to your Facebook profile when you die? Image Getty

I'd picked up a national newspaper and, on turning the first page, initially saw the headline, then the photo and then the name. We hadn't been in touch on a regular basis, but Facebook was the place to keep tabs on this distant friend. I had an inkling he may have been back in Afghanistan, but this grim confirmation was the worst way of finding out.

Prior to that, I'd dip into his page on Facebook every so often, just to see what he'd been up to, be it ice climbing in some chilly location or simply relaxing at home, where he looked so happy with his girlfriend. That's the best thing about Facebook, it's always there and always on - assuming you've got an Internet connection that is.

And, in that respect, Facebook can also be a little creepy, because a couple of weeks after his funeral, I got a notification from the social network that it was my deceased friend's birthday. How close family and his partner must have felt by being given this news doesn't bear thinking about, and it underlines the fact that this is still a computerised system, with no concept of feeling, or compassion.

So, what does, or should happen to a Facebook page when someone dies? It's a commonly asked question, and with two possible outcomes. Facebook states that it can either delete the account or memorialize it. Going down the latter route means that the deceased users' privacy is protected and only confirmed friends can see the timeline or find it in a search. It also prevents anyone from logging into the account.

Perhaps, more importantly, friends and family can leave posts in remembrance, which could prove therapeutic in the dark days that undoubtedly follow a bereavement.

A stock image of a tombstone. Image Getty

Facebook also aims to remove any sensitive information, such as contact details and status updates. That said, the fact that family and friends can still leave posts on the profile Wall in remembrance can often help those involved share their grief.

Interestingly, the social network also states: Where families wish to maintain the narrative of someone's life in their status updates they will have a five day period to download these and save them for prosperity.

Of course, the innermost workings of Facebook are going to be the last thing on the minds of those who have lost a loved one, so to its credit, the hugely successful social networking outfit has produced a useful page, full of links, that can help you decide the best way forward.

Hopefully, you may never need to use it, but with so many people now signed up to Facebook, this type of scenario is probably one that's depressingly commonplace.

So my real friend is gone but, it seems, his virtual persona lives on in the shape of his Facebook profile. I used to joke with him that he'd joined the army on his own terms, but he'd dedicated his life to the British military ever since. Sadly, his luck ran out at some dusty checkpoint in Afghanistan and that's that. But, in some ways, seeing him there on screen as if it's business as usual is strangely comforting...

Useful links:

This is the link to delete an account: https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/?id=228813257197480

This is the link to memorialize an account: https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/?id=305593649477238

1 billion people use Facebook
Is this the end of the remote control?
T3's Gadget of the Year - who won

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?