Should Facebook Add Deceased as a Relationship Status Option?

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Facebook has widened their popular relationship status choices to include “In an open relationship,” “In a civil union,” and “In a domestic partnership.” As one of the most popular features on the social networking site, friends enjoy commenting on each step in your personal life with digital enthusiasm.

So what happens to a Facebook profile when someone dies? Should it just be left there for people to comment on, deleted, or should their relationship status drop down include the category for deceased? How should we memorialize and remember someone’s online digital life?

This is a very sensitive but extremely important subject to think about. Would you feel worse if you didn’t know about the passing of a friend? Do you really want to see your loved ones’ profiles filled with spam and Happy Birthday messages?

I’ve spoken and written about what I call the Social Media Obituary as it relates to Facebook status updates, memorial pages, and how we write our obituaries while we’re alive for others to honor at the time of our death. As every tweet, status update, blog post, and YouTube video is posted, we are constantly creating a permanent digital footprint, which will define our lives while we’re alive and our legacy later on.

Death and dying is a very delicate and emotional subject. Some immediately delete the profiles of their loved ones when they pass away. Others, who don’t have the password handy, leave the profiles up. The result all-too-often, is that spam ends up on the page of the newly deceased along with birthday wishes from those who didn’t see the death notice on Facebook.

This brings up a serious question to ponder. Should there be a mourning period for your social networking profiles? If so, what’s the grace period? Should you take the time to change the status on your loved one’s profile to deceased? When radio legend and friend George Taylor Morris passed away in 2009, I found out on Facebook. His profile picture was removed and replaced with the whimsical Looney Tunes logo, which said, “That’s all Folks.” On the one-year anniversary of Morris’s death, the Facebook profile was permanently removed, but his memory will live on.

Recently, when a Los Angeles artist died unexpectedly due to a massive stroke, I viewed her Facebook profile to see if there was anything posted from the family. I thought that perhaps a family member would post an update on where to make a donation or details of a memorial service. Nothing had changed on her profile. It was as if she was still alive. A few days later, her daughter posted an update stating that the family was grieved to announce her sudden passing and stated how she treasured her friends. A website address to the artist’s works was posted for her friends to view. In my opinion, it was graciously done. However, the daughter didn’t have the option to change her mother’s relationship status to deceased. Unless you had read it in the obituaries or heard about it from word-of-mouth, you might be looking forward to seeing the artist at her next art exhibition.

In the Jewish religion, although they believe in a quick burial, on or about the one-year anniversary of the death, the tombstone is placed on the grave in a religious ceremony.

Do you think Facebook profiles should stay active or be deactivated or have a grace period to mourn?

Have you ever posted an obituary on Facebook or other social networking sites? Would you? Do you believe Facebook should add a status for deceased or would you prefer seeing a memorial page elsewhere? Your comments and opinions are welcome.

Julie Spira is a relationship and netiquette expert, social media strategist, and author of The Rules of Netiquette: How to Mind Your Manners on the Web. Visit her at RulesofNetiquette.com, Facebook.com/rulesofnetiquette and Twitter.com/netiquetterules

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