Massucci's Take: Facebook memorials could undermine good intentions
But the decision could open the door to a litany of problems. Among the potential issues: Who has the right to determine if a site is memorialized? What if the husband memorializes his wife on Facebook but the wife's parents think that such a move is in poor taste -- can the page then be taken down?
Facebook's Chimene Stewart said in an email, "We defer to the wishes of the family member who requested the account be memorialized." That means as long as one person wants it, Facebook will memorialize the deceased person's page. Down the road, I wouldn't be surprised if that leads to lawsuits to have a memorialized page removed.
There could be other problems as well. Facebook's Max Kelly, a close friend of the Facebook employee who was killed, explained in a note to users on October 26 that "When an account is memorialized, we also set privacy so that only confirmed friends can see the profile or locate it in search."
Confirmed friends means those who were Facebook friends with the Facebook user before he died. Facebook says it will prevent anyone from logging onto a deceased person's account after the user's death but it will allow friends and family to leave posts on the profile wall in remembrance.
But what happens if, for example, a Chicago firefighter dies after saving lives and folks want to show their respects by posting on the firefighter's Facebook page? Only those linked to him before his death could leave a note. In the future, will people leave instructions in their wills about whether they wish to be remembered on Facebook?
Another problem the company faces is advertising. Currently, besides memories of the deceased's life, the memorial pages also contain advertisements. That could easily be considered in poor taste. But what if Facebook were to yank the ads on those pages? Then the company would take a financial hit and would be left with memorial pages that generate little to no revenue.
Perhaps Facebook would do better to stick with the living. "There are already sites that memorialize people," says Andrew Hazen, founder and CEO of Prime Visibility, which helps boost online exposure for individuals or companies. "What's intriguing to me is that Facebook is memorializing what people have built themselves. But who will contact Facebook? People will die and Facebook will have no idea, because it won't be a priority to contact Facebook. God forbid my spouse passes on, the last thing I'm doing is notifying Facebook that she is no longer alive. I suspect this won't be policed or executed very well."
Facebook, for its part, believes that providing the memorial pages of its users outweighs any potential problems. But if the company ends up pulling ads and dealing with lawsuits from irate relatives, it may soon be lamenting not the death of its users, but the demise of its memorial pages.
Anthony Massucci is a senior writer and columnist for DailyFinance. You may follow him on Twitter at hianthony.