Death and MySpace

Posted on April 27, 2006

An article in the New York Times discusses how profiles on social networking services like MySpace have become memorials after people have died. Friends of the deceased can visit the profile and leave notes for their lost friend. This particular excerpt from the article talks about 23-year-old Deborah Lee Walker who was killed in an automobile accident. Her profile has been active for weeks since her death and is monitored by her father.

So only hours after she died in an automobile accident near Valdosta, Ga., early on the morning of Feb. 27, her father, John Walker, logged onto her MySpace page with the intention of alerting her many friends to the news. To his surprise, there were already 20 to 30 comments on the page lamenting his daughter's death. Eight weeks later, the comments are still coming.

"Hey Lee! It's been a LONG time," a friend named Stacey wrote recently. "I know that you will be able to read this from Heaven, where I'm sure you are in charge of the parties. Please rest in peace and know that it will never be the same here without you!"

Just as the Web has changed long-established rituals of romance and socializing, personal Web pages on social networking sites that include MySpace, Xanga.com and Facebook.com are altering the rituals of mourning. Such sites have enrolled millions of users in recent years, especially the young, who use them to expand their personal connections and to tell the wider world about their lives.

Inevitably, some of these young people have died -- prematurely, in accidents, suicides, murders and from medical problems -- and as a result, many of their personal Web pages have suddenly changed from lighthearted daily dairies about bands or last night's parties into online shrines where grief is shared in real time.

We have discussed this topic before in a post called The Unplanned Afterlife of Blogs. That post looked at policies from social networks like Friendster and Yahoo 360. The Times article includes some information about what MySpace does when a profile owner dies.
Tom Anderson, the president of MySpace, said in an e-mail message that out of concern for privacy, the company did not allow people to assume control of the MySpace accounts of users after their deaths.

"MySpace handles each incident on a case-by-case basis when notified, and will work with families to respect their wishes," Mr. Anderson wrote, adding that at the request of survivors the company would take down pages of deceased users.

Another recent MySpace and death related issue is Army Pvt. Dylan Meyer who left a farewell note on his MySpace profile. The army has not yet released the cause of his death but the AP is calling the MySpace posting a suicide note. There is also a website called MyDeathSpace.com that keeps a directory of MySpace users that have died. It is a sad list to look at because -- as you might expect -- the list includes people that were all extremely young when they died.



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