Facebook Changes Their Posthumous Policy: You Can Now Choose Your Own Legacy Contact

Today, Feb. 12th, Facebook announced a new service: the possibility of Adding a Legacy Contact. 

Here are some quotes and images form their official press release: 

"Today we're introducing a new feature that lets people choose a legacy contact—a family member or friend who can manage their account when they pass away. Once someone lets us know that a person has passed away, we will memorialize the account and the legacy contact will be able to:
  • Write a post to display at the top of the memorialized Timeline (for example, to announce a memorial service or share a special message)
  • Respond to new friend requests from family members and friends who were not yet connected on Facebook
  • Update the profile picture and cover photo
If someone chooses, they may give their legacy contact permission to download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information they shared on Facebook. Other settings will remain the same as before the account was memorialized. The legacy contact will not be able to log in as the person who passed away or see that person’s private messages.
Alternatively, people can let us know if they'd prefer to have their Facebook account permanently deleted after death.
Until now, when someone passed away, we offered a basic memorialized account which was viewable, but could not be managed by anyone. By talking to people who have experienced loss, we realized there is more we can do to support those who are grieving and those who want a say in what happens to their account after death. 
Here's how to choose a legacy contact:
Open your settings. Choose Security and then Legacy Contact at the bottom of the page. 
After choosing your legacy contact, you’ll have the option to send a message to that person.
You may give your legacy contact permission to download an archive of the posts, photos and profile info you've shared on Facebook.
We’ve also redesigned memorialized profiles to pay tribute to the deceased by adding “Remembering” above their name and making it possible for their legacy contact to pin a post to the top of their Timeline. 
We're introducing legacy contact in the US first and look forward to expanding to more countries. Setting up a legacy contact is completely optional.  
Our team at Facebook is grateful and humbled to be working on these improvements. We hope this work will help people experience loss with a greater sense of possibility, comfort and support". 

A memoralized profile with
the word "Remembering" added to the name and 
a post created and pinned by the Legacy Contact. 

My first reaction is - Yay! Wow. A definite improvement to the existing (non-existing) Facebook policy in this regard. 

Facebook is the second company to offer an in-house solution: Google was the first, in April 2013, with her 'Inactive Account Manager'. You can read more about it in my posts here and here
Many websites offer options to manage your digital legacy - a list can be found in this post of mine here.
(Actually it's the second-and-a-half company if we were to count Yahoo! Japan's service as well). 

I still had a few questions after reading this press release, which I directed at Jodi Seth, a Facebook Spokesperson (Manager of Policy Communications, to be precise): 
    1. Q: What about pages the deceased was an Admin to? Will the Legacy Contact have access to those as well, even just to appoint another Admin?
      I hate seeing valuable content - of both sentimental and financial value - lost over an account being memorialized, when another Admin hasn't been appointed before or after the death of the sole admin of a page.
      A: No, the legacy contact only applies to personal profiles at this time, but it is something we will certainly think about as this evolves.
    2. Q: Has anything changed regarding what happens to an account of a person who dies without nominating a Legacy Contact? 
      A: Our current memorialization policies applies: someone can request the page be memorialized (viewable, but not managed by anyone), and the family may still request the account be deleted.
    3. Q: Will users be prompted to sign up for this service? 
      A: They will not. We have posted information in our newsroom and hope that and the media coverage will encourage people to sign up as they see fit.
    4. Q: I'm uncertain about tagging: can someone be tagged in a picture or a post once their account has been memorialized? If so, then: can the Legacy Contact control those tags? For instance, if a deceased person was tagged in an ad or something else which is unsuitable or inappropriate, can the Legacy Contact untag the deceased? (I didn't see any tagging reference here). 
      AMemorialized accounts can be tagged, and whether or not the tag shows up to friends depends on the settings they had during their lifeLegacy contacts cannot currently untag, but they can reach out to the person who tagged the deceased person and ask that they remove the tag. And anything that goes against our Community Standards can be reported and we would review and delete as appropriate. 
    5. Q: Will the Legacy Contact have permission to delete posts from the timeline after the account has been memorialized? For instance, if hurtful, un-kind posts were posted, could the Legacy Contact remove it?  
      A: No, we have a reporting process, which would allow people to report anything they feel violates our terms of service and Facebook would review and delete those things.
    6. Q: It states that the Legacy Contact can "Respond to new friend requests from family members and friends who were not yet connected on Facebook": how about a "Follow" button, if the deceased hadn't set one himself/herself while he/she were still alive? Could the Legacy Contact add a "Follow" button, for people who would not wish the befriend the deceased but would like to follow, for example?
      No, a legacy contact could not add a follow button. 
    7. Q: Will the Legacy Contact be able to write a post on the timeline of the deceased and pin it there even if the "Who can post on your timeline?" settings was set to "only me" at the time of the death? If the timeline was set to "only me", will the Legacy Contact be able to change that to "friends", in order to allow the friends and family members of the deceased to express their grief there?
      A legacy contact could not change the settings  that the account holder had in life - so if the person did not allow anyone to post on his or her timeline in life then the Legacy Contact could not change that after death.
    8. QCould the Legacy Contact position be revoked or transferred? For instance, if a couple breaks up, could they revoke the position they have previously appointed to their former spouse, and/or transfer the position to their new spouse?
      A: Yes, a person may change their legacy contact as often as they like before death.
    9. Q: Has the policy changed regarding who can notify Facebook about a death of a user and/or how that notification is made? 
      I find the current policy, of anyone being able to report anyone, and that all that is required is a link to an obituary, troubling. 
      This is what a form to 'Report A Deceased User' used to look like and this is what a 'Memorialization Request' looks like now. Does it only LOOK different, or is there a change of policy too behind the change in appearances?
      A: Anyone can request memorialization, but it is verified by our community operations team who thoroughly reviews each request – we ask for an obituary or news article, but we also use other social cues to verify that the request is legitimate. We have very low rates of false memorializations. Deleting an entire account after memorialization can only be requested by immediate family and that requires a death certificate. Memorialization requests are handled the same way.

                    I asked Jed Brubaker a few more questions, of a less-technical/policy-related nature - I'll update this post soon with his answers. 

                    Jed is a PhD candidate in the department of Informatics at UC Irvine. Facebook involved him in this project as an academic collaborator, to share findings from his six years of researching death and grief on social media, and to provide feedback and guidance during the design and development of Legacy Contacts. 

                    If you want to take this opportunity and  become more acquainted with Jed's work in the meanwhile, here are a few useful links: 

                    • Projects:
                    • Publications
                      • “We will never forget you [online]” : An empirical investigation of post-mortem MySpace comments. Proc. CSCW 2011. Hangzhou, China. March 19–23, 2011. [pdf]
                      • Grief-Stricken in a Crowd: The language of bereavement and distress in social media. Proc. ICWSM-12. Dublin, Ireland. June 4-8, 2012. [pdf
                      • Beyond the Grave: Facebook as a site for the expansion of death and mourning. The Information Society, 29, 3. [pdf]
                      • Death, Memorialization, and Social Media: A Platform Perspective for Personal Archives. Archivaria, 77, 1-23. [link]
                      • Stewarding a Legacy: Responsibilities and Relationships in the Management of Post-mortem Data. Proc. CHI 2014. Toronto, Canada. April 26 – May 1, 2014. [pdf]


                    'Interfacing': Digital Theatre @ Tel Aviv University

                    Last weekend I attended 'Interfacing': a Digital Theatre performance at the Tel Aviv University, created by Maya Magnat and Erez Maayan

                    It was thought provoking and interesting, and for a university-scale production, well made. 

                    "In this Digital Theatre act we wish to explore the relationship between us and the digital gadgets we use on a daily basis in such an integral way. During the performance an intimate relationship is created between the digital gadgets and the performer through the personification of the technology". 
                    Quoting from the programme. 

                    At the beginning of the performance, the audience participated interactively, as each two viewers sat in front of an active computer screen, and Maya's digital representation communicated with us through it:

                    We acted according to the tasks we were given  

                     Learned relevant terms

                     Chose which smiley - sorry, emoticon - to send 

                    Clicking our mice led us across virtual reality

                    As the performance continued the relationship between the human performer and her digital-virtual representation was revealed, becoming increasingly unclear who was leading whom, who was guiding whom, who was operating whom. 

                    Just in case you'll get to see it I won't write any spoilers - I will write that human Maya appeared in front of a screening of a video clip titled "Come, Technology" starring digital Maya. Additional layers were added as digital maya instructed human Maya during it: 

                    For me, the most captivating, memorable part of this act was when the lips in the tablet (=digital Maya) told human Maya: 

                    "I'll always be there for you. I'll appear as you wish for me to appear, I'll do as you wish for me to do. I'll never let you down or hurt you. I'll never leave you or die or break your heart. With me you'll feel safe. You'll never be alone again..."
                    Will the digital-virtual representations of our loved ones indeed always be there for us and with us, including after their physical demise? Are we under the illusion that our digital persona, or other people's digital persona, is immortal? 
                    I think so. I think we are under the illusion that if only we'll be "good, neat and tidy" and backup EVERYTHING, we'll be able to preserve ourselves and our loved ones in some fashion. And it is an illusion, because while it is fairly easy to kill a human being from a technical-physical point of view: all you need to do is break the neck or shoot vital organs, for instance, but this requires certain skills or capabilities which not all of us necessarily posses, as well as an intent to do harm.   
                    Deleting files, however, or taking a website or a platform off line, are much simpler and accessible actions, which we're all capable of: by mistake, by negligence or intentionally. And yet - most of us don't consider these possibilities. Is it because death is transparent to us? Because we do not wish to consider the possible demise, neither of the physical person nor of the virtual-digital-online persona? 
                    In past times, people left monuments behind in the form of grand structures, hoping they will last forever and so will their name and memory. Today, people leave even larger monuments behind in self commemoration - only it's not in the physical realms. Is the non-physical self commemoration more eternal than the physical one? Or is it only more accessible, as not all of us can create pyramids or lavish palaces, but all of us can leave enough digital and online memorabilia we've created to fill up virtual pyramids? 

                    The next part of the performance made us question exactly that eternal illusion, in my eyes, but we said no spoilers, so let's continue: 

                    Human Maya and digital Maya syncing their act  

                    Human and digital Mayas flirting with each other 

                    Human Maya chooses the lips representing digital Maya 

                    Digital and human Mayas connecting 

                    Audience participation once more: 

                    we were requested to turn the computer screens towards human Maya 

                    Digital Maya projected on human Maya 

                    Virtual reality (?) awaits us outside

                    I will try and update here and/or in the Facebook page of the blog if 'Interfacing' will be performed again. 
                    All pictures were taken by me during the performance. 


                    You might find the following post of interest to you as well: "Mediumship": Performance Art at 'Print Screen' Festival


                    Snow Byte & the Seven Formats: A Digital Preservation Fairy Tale

                    I don't recall when or how I stumbled upon this name, Snow Byte & the Seven Formats: A Digital Preservation Fairy Tale, but today was the first time I followed it up, and - wow! this is simply excellent. 

                    You can read the fairy tale here, and you can watch it as an animates video here


                    I can only hope something this good will be made regarding Digital Death. 

                    There are already some good animated movies, such as this one by the Australian 'Life Insurance Finder', which is specifically about Digital Death, 


                    Or this British movie by the 'British Humanist Association' which is about Death in general (And narrated by Stephen Fry!), 


                    But I do hope an animated Digital Death video will be created in 2015 which will be educational, fun and funny, and, who knows - maybe even viral. 


                    So What's New in Digital Death?

                    The end of 2014 is a great excuse to look back and see what's new in Death. Digital Death. 


                    • Intel acquires PasswordBox, which acquired Legacy Locker in November 2013. The previous acquisitions were: 
                      • In July 2012 LifeEnsured was acquired by SecureSafe, formerly known as Data Inherit. 
                      • In April 2012 SecureSafe acquired entrustet as well. 
                    • The Knesset in Israel holds a discussion regarding Digital Estate.
                      It is the first time the Knesset addresses this issue, and the first time a draft of a bill was presented here in this regard. 


                    "Removal of certain imagery

                    In order to respect the wishes of loved ones, Twitter will remove imagery of deceased individuals in certain circumstances. Immediate family members and other authorized individuals may request the removal of images or video of deceased individuals, from when critical injury occurs to the moments before or after death, by sending an e-mail to privacy@twitter.com. When reviewing such media removal requests, Twitter considers public interest factors such as the newsworthiness of the content and may not be able to honor every request".



                    • Webpagefx come up with a new Digital Death info-graphics regarding Facebook and death.
                      Till then, the international Digital Death community I'm part of has been using this animated video created at the beginning of 2012 by the Australian company 'Life Insurance Finder'. 


                    • Michael Jackson died in 2009 and appears in a "live" performance on stage in Las Vegas on May 2014. Well, his hologram does.
                      Prior to this, we've encountered Tupac who died in 1996 and performed in Coachella Festival in 2012, and Kurt Cobain who died in 1994 and performed in Guitar Hero in 2009.

                    I wonder if in the near future we shall see some more "live" performances by dead performers, and I also wonder if artists and celebrities will begin to leave instructions behind regarding their willingness - or lack of it - to keep on performing after their death. 


                    • The first academic symposium entirely dedicated to Digital Death takes place, titled: Death Online Research SymposiumTill then, we've had several un-conferences.
                      You're welcome to read my summary of it here: Day 1, Day 2.
                    • During this symposium, the idea if using Augmented Reality with gravestones was presented for the first time. You can see a demo in this short video I made. 
                      So far, gravestones were used in combination with QR bar-codes since 2008 (at least), and in 2010 an idea won a designing competition of using Bluetooth with gravestones, but to the best of my knowledge, that was never put into practice.
                      It'll be interesting to see if Augmented Reality will actually be used in this regard. 

                    • The Law Society of England and Wales publishes a press release urging people to Leave a digital legacy.
                      Till then, the official blog of the USA government published a post in 2012 encouraging people to Write a Social Media Will


                    • John Berlin uploads a short video to YouTube, asking Facebook to let him see the 'Look Back' video of his deceased son, Jessie. His video goes viral and in a day Facebook gets in touch with him, allows him to see Jessie's video, and later that month change their policy and allow everyone to request seeing the 'Look Back' video of a loved one who passed away. John uploads a second video, in which he thanks everyone who helped make this happenn.    

                    (Please note: approaching Facebook with a request to see a 'Look Back' video of a loved one who passed away means his or her profile will automatically be turned into a memorialized profile. Once this is done it can't be undone, so please be sure you want this to happen before making such a request. Of course, if the relevant profile has already been memorialized, this caution is irrelevant). 

                    If you think of other news which should have made it into this summary, please drop me a line via email: death.in.digital.era@gmail.com or via the Facebook page of the blog. 


                    The Results of the Survey I Held are now Available in English

                    In 2013 I held a survey which was the first of its kind in Israel, dealing with the digital legacy we and our loved ones will leave behind. 

                    I'm sorry it took me so long to translate the results and upload it in English, but here it is: 
                    I'm happy and excited to share them with you, in a professional manner, after the wonderful Dr. ‏‏Shimon Peretz‏ went over it all: a PDF you can view, print, download etc. via this link, with all the results from this survey presented in it. 

                    Dr. Roey Tzezana and I co-wrote a paper based on some of the results of this survey, which was published in Finland: Online Legacies: Online Service Providers and the Public – a Clear Gap (Thanatos magazine), but in this PDF all the results can be viewed in English for the first time

                    I also wish to thank Yuval Idan for her proofreading and language check. 

                    In addition to the closed-ended questions, some questions offered free-response text options. 
                    So many comments and responses were left I won't aspire to translate it, but here are some general themes I came across: 

                    "These are tough questions", "The user is responsible", "The ISP is responsible", "Depends on the circumstances", "Depends on how old the deceased child was when he/she died", "Depends on which data we're talking about", "The heirs should prove they were close to the deceased during his/her life prior to being granted access", "Depends on which of the relatives we're talking about", "Family members should be aware of the consequences", "It should be according to law", "I have a solution!", "Depends on who, when and how", "This is a problem", "This is not a problem", "Some cases are extraordinary and should be treated as such", "The dead have a right to their privacy", "Family members will have to face the consequences", "Depends on how old the deceased minor was: a 17 years old is not the same as a 12 years old", "The age of the deceased child is irrelevant", "Depends on the circumstances of the death", "Minors don't know enough to make up their minds", "Parents should be granted access, period", "Minors too have a right for posthumous privacy". 

                    What I can add from my point of view is: 

                    1. Most of the people who answered this survey were presented with Digital Death issues for the first time. They didn't think about it before - and then, thinking about it for the first time, they suddenly realized they have strong opinions in this matter, which was interesting for me to note. 
                    2. I was surprised by the distinction made between browsing history and Internet search history on one side, and emails, cellphones data and social network accounts on the other side. I was not aware people regarded the first two as more private and personal than then later three. 


                    Thank You For This Vote of Confidence :)

                    I've been a member of the Digital Death Day group and emailing list since July 2012. 

                    This email list, as well as some other infrastructure for hosting Digital Death Day events, is provided by Identity Commons

                    Identity Commons is a community of groups working on developing the identity and social layer of the web. The organization is loosely connected sharing a common purpose and principles. Our group of people interested in Digital Death is known as the "Digital Death Working Group" (Quoting Evan Caroll here).  

                    Since its inception, Evan Carroll has served as Steward and represented our working group to Identity Commons' Stewards Council. 

                    Due to personal commitments, Evan decided to step down from this role and was kind enough to suggest that I take it upon myself and become the new Steward. 

                    I very much appreciate the kind words and helpful suggestions our group members have shown me in their replies to this suggestion. 
                    Thank you Evan and everybody for this vote of confidence and thank you Kaliya Hamlin for creating Digital Death Day to begin with. I'm curious to see where we'll be headed towards next. 

                    Print Screen - Email From Evan Caroll

                    Print Screen - Email From Holly Isdale

                    Print Screen - Email From Komal Joshi

                    Print Screen - Email From Jed Brubaker

                    Print Screen - Email From Selina Ellis Gray

                    Print Screen - Email From Anna Haverinen

                    Print Screen - Email From Stacey Pitsillides


                    My Summary of the 'Death Online Research Symposium', April 2014, Durham, UK - Day 2

                    My summary of day 1 - April 9th can be found here

                    Day 2 - April 10th

                    • Paper Session 3:  Remembering Loved Ones OnlineSession chair: Korina Giaxoglou
                      • The story God is weaving us into”: narrativizing grief, faith, and infant loss in U.S. women’s blog communities: Deborah Whitehead, USA
                      • "A place to grieve: online social networks as resources for coping with the loss of a child": Ylva Hård af Segerstad and Dick Kasperowski, Sweden
                      • "Death across media: comparing practices of grief and commemoration on children’s graves and online memorial sites": Dorthe Refslund Christensen and Kjetil Sandvik, Denmark
                      • "Sadness online. Dealing with the loss of a loved one online. Motives, interactional structures and their gratifications": Katrin Döveling and Katrin Wasgien, Germany
                      • "Online suicide memorialisation: exploring the role of the internet in suicide grief": Jo Bell, David Kennedy, Louis Bailey, UK
                    I have to admit this session was a bit "heavy" for me and "pushed my buttons". 

                    Deborah Whitehead:

                    Here are some quotes from her abstract:

                    "“The Story God is Weaving us into”: Narrativizing Grief, Faith and Infant Loss in U.S. women’s Blogs Communities

                    Pregnancy and infant loss, grief, and memorialization in online religious communities: Many of the most popular "mommy blogs" (authored by mothers for a readership primarily composed of mothers and deal with content related to parenting and domesticity) deal with pregnancy and infant loss as a central subject. Blogging becomes a way of working through a private grieving process in a public way. In evangelical Christian mommy blogs, a subset of the larger “mommy blog” genre, the approach to a child’s death is distinctive. Just as evangelical funerals routinely incorporate altar calls as a way of providing a larger sense of meaning and purpose for a loved one’s death, so too do these blogs, particularly as they acquire larger audiences, become for their authors a means of sharing the gospel and saving souls.  

                    First, I show how individual stories of pregnancy and infant loss can, through social media, create new supportive communities where bereaved mothers, both authors and readers, can share in a collective process of grieving and memorializing their children in religious terms.
                    Second, I argue that a (re)narrativization of death and loss takes place via the blog as authors seek to situate a traumatic personal loss, via text and image, within the context of a larger story, and hence to make it meaningful in some way. The blogger seeks to tell the story of a child’s life cut too short, but in the process of doing so via social media, the story becomes “my story” (the author’s story too), or part of the larger story of their family, or even “our story” inclusive of the blog community of readers, “the story God is weaving us into,” post by post, day by day, as one blogger put it; but it also becomes part of God’s larger salvation story for humanity. In the process of this ongoing storytelling, I demonstrate how these women are using social media not only to create new spaces for grieving but also new ways to navigate child loss and memorialization via the creation of ongoing religious narratives".  

                    Ylva Hård af Segerstad and Dick Kasperowski

                    Here are some quotes from their abstract:

                    "A Place to Grieve: Online Social Networks as Resources for Coping with the Loss of a Child

                    The death of a child is said to be the most disruptive of all possible losses individuals may experience in life (Schwab, 1990). Parental grief has been recognized as the most intense and overwhelming of all forms of grief (Freud,1917; Mitchell et al., 2012; Parkes, 1988; Rando, 1985, 1986; Rees 1997). Research has indicated that bereaved parents’ grief process is unique and may be life-long (Klass et al., 1996; Sormanti & August 1997). 

                    Theoretical perspectives on parental grief have undergone a paradigm shift over the last century (Davies, 2004). Traditional understandings advocated breaking bonds with the deceased child as a means of resolving grief, pathologizing what new understandings recognize as important in coping with the loss of a child, i.e. to continue bonds and holding-on. The latter often counteracts with social norms and expectations by society. The death of a child is an extremely uncomfortable subject in most western societies and often avoided in conversation. This avoidance limits the exploration of experiences and possibilities for coping with grief that might be shared in a culture (Brotherson & Soderquist, 2002). Consequently, there are not many places or situations where grieving parents may talk about their dead children, their experiences and feelings in trying to cope with their loss. With the introduction of social media this has changed.

                    This paper presents results from a unique empirical study of bereaved parents’ use of a closed peer support group on Facebook. 
                    Results show that the technological affordances of online social networks offer means for bereaved parents to continue bonds with their deceased children and may act as vital resources for coping with grief in ways that has not been available previously. Closed communities online offer a move from individual pathologized holding-on to emerging social norms for holding-on, supporting the particular and life-long needs of grieving parents in unprecedented ways".

                    Dorthe Refslund Christensen and Kjetil Sandvik

                    Here are some quotes from their abstract:

                    "Death Across Media: Comparing Practices of Grief and Commemoration on Children’s Graves and Online Memorial Sites

                    A dead child – be it a stillborn or dead at a very early age – renders the bereaved (mainly the parents) in an existential void: all preparational efforts leading up to the life as parents to a (new) child are rendered meaningless and all hopes and dreams for the future as a family are scattered and destroyed. In this situation, the process of grief becomes a way of reinstalling meaning by establishing an ongoing relationship to the dead child, by which the child - who in life was barely there - gains existence, and through which the identity as parents (however to a dead child) is established, communicated and socially acknowledged.
                    In this paper, we investigate how this relation-building and relation-maintaining practices are articulated through the use of objects as communicational media on children’s graves and the resembling uses of various communicational features on online memorial sites. In a comparative analysis of selected children’s graves at Nordre Kirkegård (Aarhus, DK) and selected memory profiles at the Danish online memorial site Mindet.dk, we demonstrate how the loss of a child initiates processes which is not about ‘letting go and moving on’ but rather ‘keeping hold and moving’ (Walters) and how these are articulated through both offline and online communicational practices. For instance, the use of drawings, photos, poems, clippings of hair, imprints of hands and feet, colors, music, toys, ornaments etc to document and honor the presence of the dead child and the use of candles -  be it physical or digital candles - to be lit by the parents and others showing appreciation and care for the dead child are examples of this cross mediatic communicational practices showing the ways in which relations to the dead child are established and maintained. Through this analysis, we intend to point to and discuss some of the matrices of the online memorial practices".

                    Katrin Döveling and Katrin Wasgien

                    Here are some quotes from their abstract:

                    "Sadness Online. Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One Online. Motives, Interactional Structures and Their Gratifications

                    In the age of rising impact of virtual communication, the amount of information as well as emotional content in the social web has dramatically risen. This leads to the question which role virtual interaction plays in dealing with the basic human emotion of sadness (cf. Ekman 1981), as previous research (authors, 2013) demonstrates that sadness is increasingly shared online in social network sites. 

                    The leading research questions of our research thus are:
                    1. Why do the bereaved turn to online platforms and thus share their most private feelings with an anonymous public? 
                    2. Does the internet lead to a new form of emotion management? 
                    3. Does anonymous, shared suffering lead to an intensification of emotions or through “online emotional openness, personal exploration, and interpersonal support“, (Preece & Ghozati, 2001, S. 241) to emotional relief? 
                    4. If so, which are these potential online gratifications (Palmgreen & Rayburn, 1982)?
                    After having laid out the theoretical basis on the density of emotional interactions for the extensive study that developed throughout the course of one year, the focus was set onto the analysis of "Social Sharing of Emotions“ (Rimé et al., 1991) and “Emotion Management” (author 2012).  
                    Thus, three distinctive German sadness platforms (“TrauerVerlustForum”, “YoungWings” and “MeineTrauer”) were examined in a two-step content analysis, which generated insight into the basic mechanisms of online grief of adolescents as well as adults". 

                    Jo Bell, David Kennedy and Louis Bailey

                    Here are some quotes from their abstract:

                    "Online Suicide Memorialisation: Exploring the role of the Internet in Suicide Grief

                    The last 10 years has seen a rise in internet sites commemorating those lost to  suicide. Some of these sites are collective while others are created and maintained by friends and families of individuals. Whether collective or individual, these sites describe the life of the deceased and the afterlife of relatives, parents, friends, or siblings who have been termed the ‘forgotten bereaved’ (Dyregrov and Dyregrov,  2005). It is clear that such sites have implications for what many commentators refer to as the continuing social presence of the dead and as continuing bonds.

                    This paper presents data from ongoing research which has focused on two aspects  of suicide memorial websites.
                    First, we explore the extent to which such sites help us understand how the internet is enabling new ways of grieving and is, in effect, making new cultural scripts.
                    Second, although there is a large body of writing on the management of trauma there is little evidence-based research. The paper draws on face-to-face interviews with owners of suicide memorial sites and explores how the establishment and maintenance of such a site is an important part of the therapeutic process and how, for grieving relatives, making or contributing to such sites provides ways of managing trauma in the aftermath of a death by suicide".

                    I have to admit that it was difficult for me to follow this talk, which I'm sure reflects poorly only on me and not in the speaker - but - to be perfectly honest, I learned via this talk that I do not glean a lot from a one hour talk which is accompanied only by one, single slide. I'm used to visual aids as "hooks" to what I'm listening to, and I'm afraid their lack made it difficult for me to follow this talk. We were however handed a single sheet of paper as a reference, which I'm adding here for your benefit. 

                    • Paper Session 4-1: Digital Legacy and InheritanceSession chair: Laurie Faro
                      • "Digital legacy – what happens to our digital assets when we die?": Astrid Waagstein, Denmark
                      • "Digital dead remains: exploring material and in-material legacies": Selina Ellis Gray and Maria Alejandra Lujan Escalante, UK
                      • "Facebook user profiles after death: digital inheritance or property of the network?": Damien McCallig, Ireland
                    This was a fascinating session, which is my solace for not being able to attend the other session which took place at the same time.

                    Astrid Waagstein

                    When Astrid finished her talk I wanted to get up on my feet and clap, or cheer, or better yet - hug her. Apart form obvious differences in style etc., I felt like I could have given Astrid's talk - and she could have given one of mine. Her perception of Digital Death issues is quite similar to mine and it was very gratifying for me to meet her. 
                    In the following pictures she is showing an official booklet in Danish which is distributed to people in hospitals, hospices etc., with points worth thinking about and taking care of while still alive - including digital legacy, which I was very impressed by. 

                    Here are some quotes from her abstract:

                    "Digital Legacy – What Happens to Our Digital Assets when We Die?

                    What happens to our digital assets such as photos, playlists, digitised letters, diaries and blogs when we die? Will our relatives be able to gain access to these digital heirlooms? And do we want them to?

                    This article presents the results of a study conducted in June 2013 examining the awareness of and sentiments on digital legacy. It also suggests a research design building on the study in question, and aiming towards the development of a solution that addresses legal, practical, technical and ethical challenges, and which handles and secures digital legacy appropriate.
                    Through interviews with death aware respondents – mainly hospice employees – respondents were (implicitly) asked if they could relate to their digital legacy and if so, how. They were also asked to what degree their digital legacy was important to them, and what artefacts they regarded as valuable and potential heirlooms.
                    The study showed that the respondents were not at all aware of having a digital legacy. Despite their death awareness and having experienced problems with inaccessible digital assets regarding family or friends they had not considered the same problem regarding their own legacy. However, the actions and statements of the interviewees make it clear that the respondents wish to preserve and safe-keep their digital effects as they have great emotional, practical and historical value to them - effects such as digital documents (personal letters, poetry, songs), digital photos, texts, blogs, digital music collections, e-Boks content, access to online banking and hardware, and the hardware and passwords itself.
                    Furthermore a revisit at the hospice after six months unveiled that the hospice employees had begun discussing digital legacy and the passing of access codes with patients".

                    Selina Ellis Gray and Maria Alejandra Lujan Escalante

                    Here are some quotes from their abstract:

                    "Digital Dead Remains: Exploring Material and In-material Legacies

                    Our material possessions continue on after our deaths. As remnants of lives lived and fractious identities, remains range from the places where the deceased once called home, the things they used to wear on their bodies and the ‘treasures’ which they held in high esteem.  The dead leave us with these material legacies that appear ingrained with deep residues which become profoundly evocative to the memories of the living (Gibson, 2008; Davis, 2007). 

                    In contemporary society, the dead are increasingly leaving behind a massive amount of ‘in-material’ remains, as data embedded within the material of the technological infrastructure and its network of hardware, software, interfaces and lines of code.  While this suggests the material qualities of our legacies are undergoing a radical transformation, moving from traditional earthly possessions towards an inclusion of in-material data, embodied residues are seemingly managing to exist on.

                    The objective of this work is to discuss this changing nature of matter and meaning in the context of life and death, specifically in relation to digital memory and the notion of the memento. We aim to introducing a dynamic and ‘intra-active’ perspective which draws on the interdisciplinary work of New Materialist philosophy and in particular, Karen Barad.  

                    We will outline how both material and in-material legacies have particular features, capacities and emergent practices, through presenting empirical data that illustrates how these can [dis]able social personas and [re]configure identities after death. We do this through recounting empirical observations made within a range of different online platforms. From ‘user generated’ through to intelligent forms of digital afterlife software as seen by ‘Death Switch’, ‘DeadSocial’, ‘if i die’, ‘Perpetu’ and ‘LivesOn’. This work should prompt reflect upon how both material and in-material remains work to mediate and [re]negotiate relationships of loss within the sensitive context of bereavement".

                    Damien McCallig

                    I have been following Damien's (excellent) work for a while now so it was a pleasure to finally meet him in person. 

                    You can read some of his work in the following links: 
                    Here are some quotes from his abstract:

                    "Facebook User Profiles after Death: Digital Inheritance or Property of the Network?

                    Facebook is currently the most popular social networking service. It hosts more than 1.26 billion user profiles with almost 750 million daily active users.  Many of the inactive user profiles relate to deceased account holders. Dealing with the digital remains of these deceased users creates significant policy and procedural difficulties for service providers, such as Facebook. The digital remains issue also raises interesting questions regarding what it is a decedent leaves behind, in digital media when they die, and whether a public policy response is warranted to deal with the issue.  

                    This paper questions whether a deceased user’s profile should be classified as a form of digital inheritance, to be distributed as part of a decedent’s estate, or should the profiles of the dead remain the property of the network. It further asks, what useful impact, if any, can legal or public policy interventions have on the regulation of the digital remains issue. In answering these questions the factors which have shaped Facebook’s evolving deceased user policies are identified and examined.  The early impact of internal factors, in particular, pressure from other users of the social network, who were bound together by technical and contractual rules, set many of the parameters for later changes to Facebook’s deceased user policy. External factors driven by the surviving families of the deceased, the media, privacy laws and regulators, the estate planning industry, court cases and legislators eventually became more impactful on Facebook’s policy decisions and these are also analysed.  

                    This analysis also draws out gaps in Facebook’s current policies and helps test the impact of proposed legislative and public policy changes. The proposed legislation, emerging in the United States, in relation to fiduciary access to a decedent’s digital assets, may not have too great an impact on service providers, such as Facebook, and may need to be broadened in application and scope.  Ultimately, this paper looks to the future and makes recommendations which will be useful for social network service providers, including Facebook, and legislators with respect to digital inheritance and future heritage access to the digital remains of deceased persons". 

                    • Paper Session 4-2:  Social Media Practices of MourningSession chair: Stine Gotved
                      • "“I didn’t know her, but…” : affected strangers’ mourning practices on Facebook R.I.P pages": Lisbeth Klastrup, Denmark
                      • "Entextualizing moments of mourning on Facebook: narrative performances of grief in computer-mediated communication": Korina Giaxoglou, UK
                      • "Socially shared mourning: construction and consumption of collective memory": Anu Harju, Finland

                    Since sessions 4-1 and 4-2 took place at the same time and I attended 4-1, I'm afraid all I can offer about this session is quotes from abstracts: 

                    Lisbeth Klastrup

                    "”I Didn’t know her, but...”: Affected Strangers’ Mourning Practices on Facebook R.I.P. Pages

                    “Death [in the media] is not a taboo... But rather a narrative force and image system used to inform, shock and entertain” (Gibson 2007, 416)

                    While sociologists of death consistently argue, that in modern western society the death of those close to us has become an individual and private matter, death researchers have also pointed out that the death of others or the death of celebrities are regularly made into public stories by the news media (see f.i. Field and Walter 2003, Gibson 2007).
                    This paper will present and discuss findings from an in-depth study of “R.I.P” pages on Facebook. It takes its point of departure in the fact that Facebook R.I.P. pages seem to attract many people who do and did not know the person who is commemorated on the pages in question. The author has previously referred to this practice as “R.I.P’ing” and “affective mourning”. This paper will further explore why these “strangers” post on RIP-pages, and what they do when they are there? In the cases, which will be discussed in this paper, the people who are remembered on these pages, have a “history of death” which have circulated in the press, and furthermore the same press will often explicitly have pointed to the R.I.P page as part of their coverage of the story. The study therefore includes unpacking and tracking the relation between news media and the Facebook page in question. They are all pages which have gotten around 5000 likes or more, and therefore contain several posts by alledged “strangers”. An earlier pilot study by the author of “R.I.P’ing” practices (sample: 600 posts) revealed that three most common forms of posts to these pages were conventional formal expressions of mourning (like writing “R.I.P), expressions of sympathy with the family of the bereaved, and expressions of the affect and emotions of the poster. This study will seek to confirm whether this is a recurrent pattern, and try to outline a tentative typology of “mourning strangers”". 

                    Korina Giaxoglou

                    "Entextualizing Moments of Mourning on Facebook: Narrative Performances of Grief in Computer-mediated Communication

                    Digital media offer new domains for people to articulate aspects of their everyday self and share resources, views, attitudes, and emotions by variously combining the affordances and constraints of different media.

                    (see Barton and Lee 2013, Georgakopoulou 2006, Jones and Hafner 2012). The use of digital environments as ‘new’ sites for the temporal, spatial and social expansion of death and mourning has been increasingly receiving scholarly attention addressing the issues that emanate from such ‘new’ uses (Brubaker and Hayes 2011, Brubaker, Hayes and Dourish, 2012). And yet, there is much scope for developing a systematic and interdisciplinary approach to the investigation of social practices and meanings emerging (or re-emerging) in digital spaces for mourning. The present paper seeks to offer a sociolinguistic perspective to the study of mourning and grieving online with the aim to foreground links between linguistic-discursive practices in digital environments and broader aspects of social life. 

                    The focus of the paper lies on practices of sharing, understood as ‘the entextualization of significant moments for a networked audience’ (Androutsopoulos, 2013) with an emphasis on practices of moments of mourning on Facebook pages and group sites. It is argued that genres of mourning and performances of grief help transform the unspeakable into reportable and shareable moments embedded in multimodal texts. Furthermore, such genres and performances offer a unique window to the enactment and negotiation of contemporary Western regimes of individualized  emotion (cf. Wilce, 2009). 

                    Analysing Facebook logs as narratives in computer-mediated interaction, the paper explores the way informal spaces for mourning encourage the weaving of grief into everyday life through different types of narrative activity, lending coherence and affective power to individual articulations of grief".

                    Anu Harju

                    "Socially Shared Mourning: Construction and Consumption of Collective Memory

                    The death of Steve Jobs in 2011 shocked the fan community and hurled them into creative action. Not only did the fans flood Apple stores around the world, digital commemorative artefacts soon emerged online. Social media sites rendered personal acts of remembrance into public property, into memorial sites. This paper looks at the collective construction of the memory of Jobs as an object of fandom in these sites after his death and how this memory is subsequently consumed, and what instrumental role(s) technological devices and digital artefacts have in these practices. Drawing on Eliade’s (1959) account of sociology of religion and his notions of the duality of modes of existence regarding time and space, namely the sacred and the profane modes, this paper seeks to examine the spiritual aspects of the fans’ practices of mourning in the wider context of consumer culture theory (Belk et al., 1989; Bonsu and Belk 2003; Belk and Tumbat, 2005; Muñiz et al., 2005). 

                    Data is collected from social media site YouTube, where remembrance videos dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs abound. One fan-produced commemorative video, called ‘In dedication – Thank you, Steve’ is chosen for more careful analysis. While the video is also examined, the user comments posted on the video site, both by fans and anti-fans, as well as the ensuing conversations, are analysed in more detail. 

                    The study shows that the fans consumption has spiritual elements, of experiencing the sacred. Just as devices may act as threshold into sacred space, so may digital commemorative artefacts on social media sites. As death marks a separation, revisiting these sites offer continuation, access to symbolic eternity. In the process of bereavement, the object of fandom becomes increasingly an object of consumption and undergoes a signification process whereby new meanings are constructed, contested and negotiated. 

                    Social practices of mourning are changing: social media is transforming what used to be private into a public, networked, and social practice. New forms of spirituality are emerging and experienced in the everyday. Digitality offers eternal existence, even if symbolic, and allows continued consumption of what once was". 

                    • Paper Session 5: Digital Memorials and MemoriesSession chair:  Tim Hutchings
                      • "The Digital Monument to the Jewish Community of the Netherlands and the Jewish Monument Community: ritual commemorative practices and meaning": Laurie M.C. Faro, The Netherlands
                      • "Digital eternities: post-mortem digital identities and new memorial uses of the web from a gender perspective": Fanny Georges, Hélène Bourdeloie and Lucien Castex, France
                      • "The netlore of the infinite: death (and beyond) in the new digital memory ecology": Amanda Lagerkvist, Sweden
                    As the end of the day and the symposium were approaching, kudos to the participants of the last session who managed to keep us engaged.

                    Laurie M.C. Faro

                    As I'm both Jewish and from a family with Hollocaust background (my Hungarian paternal grandparents survived the camps, to make some long stories short), I was fascinated by this unique project which I was unaware of till that point.

                    Here are some quotes from her abstract:

                    "The Digital Monument to the Jewish Community of the Netherlands and the Jewish Monument Community: Ritual Commemorative Practices and Meaning

                    In April 2005, the Digital Monument to the Jewish Community in the Netherlands went on line. This monument is an Internet monument dedicated to preserving the memory of more than 100,000 men, women and children, Dutch Jewish victims of the Shoah. The digital monument is at first sight a page on the internet and the home page is intended as monument: a screen with thousands of little colored bars which are grouped together in blocks. Each block represents a family and each little bar within a block represents a victim. Clicking on a bar will direct you to the separate pages of all victims.

                    Image via website

                    Main objective is to reconstruct the picture of the Jewish community in the Netherlands at the eve of their destruction by means of ‘returning’ to each individual victim his or her identity.

                    As of September 2010, the Jewish Monument Community website has been linked to the website of the Digital Monument. The Community is an interactive website where so called ‘users’ may contribute and exchange information about the persons remembered in the monument. More than 6,000 user profiles have been registered at the Community website.

                    Print screen of website

                    With this monument and accompanying community, a new approach to commemoration is introduced while new concepts in design, memorial space and communication are applied.

                    In 1998 Geser feared that commemoration practices at a virtual memorial would be limited to ‘behavior extremely short in time and extremely unrelated to any other social involvements. It becomes a small ‘intermezzo’, during surfing activities […]’.  The results of my research show that, although practices are mostly limited in time, they do not have the character of an ‘intermezzo’ in between other internet activities. Within all groups of informants practices evoke deeply felt emotions raised by the enormous amount of names, the ages and the stories behind the victims.
                    My research also shows that the proposed characteristics of ‘co – production’ of memory and ‘voice’ of web – based memorializing by Foot et al, have been defined as distinguishing features of the Digital Monument and Community. By sharing their own personal remembrances, stories, pictures or other digitalized objects which they consider relevant on the Community, users co – produce the remembrance of the Shoah.

                    Each individual may decide what they consider important to ‘voice’ at the community and as a result the memorial refrains from taking sides and imposing closure upon the audience’s interpretation of the memory of the Shoah.

                    In line with Casey and Savage (who launched the term ‘therapeutic’ monument) there seems to be a ‘healing’ effect in expressing oneself in a public, in this case a virtual, environment.

                    In conclusion: the Digital Monument and Community s are valuable contributions to commemoration practices of the Shoah, a place 24/7 accessible for commemoration from all over the world where each one can contribute at one’s own place and time. In this respect they form a ‘living monument’, not closed but open, and which will continue to grow in future".

                    Fanny Georges, Hélène Bourdeloie and Lucien Castex

                    Here are some quotes from their abstract:

                    "Digital Eternities: Post-mortem Digital Identities and New Memorial Uses of the Web From a Gender Perspective

                    As a privileged site for individual identity building, the web and its uses have reorganized social relationships. The lasting of digital data, after the death of its users, raise nowadays several questions. What become of the identity data of web users after their death? Do they care about them when they are still alive? How do relatives deal with these data? How do major actors of the web, such as Facebook and Google, manage them? As any other digital and funeral practices, those post mortem digital practices are gendered. This project wants to shed a light on the gender dimension of these practices. How does the gender of the dead person and of those who pay tribute to him/her structure the memorial uses and the construction of post mortem identities? Such questions seem crucial when taking into account the multiplication of digital programs dedicated to memorial practices and the dramatic importance of social networks in relation to the aging of web users.

                    For a few years, international research has explored the social issues raised by profiles of dead users, as well as the changes in the mourning practices on the web, but has paid little attention to gender issues. In France, only a few research projects have been conducted on the thematic. Even more, if works articulate digital practices and death or question the gender dimension of mourning, none develop a specific gender perspective on digital practices related to death". 

                    Amanda Lagerkvist

                    You can read some of Amanda's work in the following link: 

                    Here are some quotes from her abstract:

                    "The Netlore of the Infinite: Death (and Beyond) in the New Digital Memory Ecology

                    Our late modern digital age raises a number of important concerns as regards the fundamentals of our existence. Through shifts in the digital memory ecology that affect our sense of time, space, community and identity, our life world seems to be assuming a new, and quite vulnerable form (Bauman 2008). Yet, while our age celebrates instantaneity, and makes compulsions of hyper connectivity and networked individualism co-exist with technological obsolescence, the result is more than the all-pervasive tension between remembering and forgetting (Hoskins 2013, Garde Hansen et al 2009). This paper argues, in addition, that in our era of absolute presence, the infinite has simultaneously made an important return through digital memory practices that both defer and de-sequester death (author 2013). This is visible in the ubiquitous meaning making practices of personal digital archiving through the urges for self-perpetuation; it is evident at sites where the self may be saved for posterity (www.Itomb); it is discernible in the practices of directly speaking to the dead on digital memorials (Roberts 2004, Walter et. al 2011/12), and in the tendency among some users to regard the internet itself as a manifestation of eternity, ‘heaven’ and the sacred (Jacobi 2012). The paper shows that by approaching digital memory cultures existentially – inspired by the debate on media and religion and its emphasis on new uncharted forms of existential meaning making in our media age (Hoover & Lundby 1997; Woodhead & Heelas 2001; Lövheim 2008, Hutchings 2012; Moncur forthcoming) – we may move beyond the binary between technological determinism and technological affordances. At this juncture, we may examine what may be termed a ‘netlore’ of the infinite, and gain insights into how people navigate and create meaning, through establishing a sense existential security, in the digital memory ecology.

                    The End 

                    All in all, it was a very rewarding experience, and I thank all the people who have made this possible: from the organizers to the participants to the people who made this trip possible for me via crowdfunding. 

                     Astrid Waagstein and me
                    Picture by Deborah Whitehead

                    Deborah Whitehead and me
                    Picture by Astrid Waagstein


                    The next Death Online Research Symposium is scheduled for August 2015 and will take place in London: stay tuned. 

                    All pictures taken by me unless otherwise specified.