Rumors of Mark Zuckerberg’s death may have been greatly exaggerated – but by his own billion-plus user website, as a glitch on Friday afternoon led Facebook to declare two million users, including Zuckerberg himself, prematurely dead.
People logging in to their accounts to find that they had been “memorialized”, with a message saying (in Zuckerberg’s case): “We hope people who love Mark will find comfort in the things others share to remember and celebrate his life.”
Just a day earlier, Zuckerberg had said the idea that fake news on Facebook could sway people in their voting decisions was “crazy”.
At time of writing, at least four Guardian US journalists are among those who were declared by the social media giant to have shuffled off this mortal coil.
Facebook apologized for the glitch and explained that it was related to the social network’s protocol for ‘memorializing’ a person’s page when they do actually die.
The company planned to introduce the new messaging to existing memorialized pages, but mistakenly displayed it on two million other accounts.
“For a brief period today, a message meant for memorialized pages was mistakenly posted to other accounts. This was a terrible error that we have now fixed. We are very sorry that this happened and we worked as quickly as possible to fix it,” said a spokeswoman.
When the message appeared, hundreds of dismayed users complained on Twitter about their premature digital deaths.
Facebook does allow users to memorialize the accounts of deceased family members or friends by submitting a formal request. Typically they must identify the account of the person who has died, the date they passed away and show proof of death, such as a link to an obituary or death certificate. “This is very helpful to the team that reviews memorialization requests,” says Facebook.
If a request is accepted, the word “remembering” is shown next to the person’s name and the profile no longer appears in public spaces such as suggestions for People You May Know, or for birthday reminders.
Users can appoint a legacy contact while they are alive to manage their account when they die. If a user fails to do this, the profile is preserved but can’t be edited.
This article was written by Nicky Woolf and Olivia Solon in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Friday 11th November 2016 21.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010