Written by Jesusegun Alagbe - Nigeria
On that Saturday morning, in his Lagos home - before he got up from bed - there were six birthday notifications on his smartphone from Facebook, reminding him to wish his friends happy birthday celebrations. But what baffled him was that one of these friends, who was his course mate at the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology in Ogbomoso, Oyo State, was already dead. This made him wonder, "Why is Facebook asking me to wish a dead person a happy birthday celebration? Is Ade still alive?"
But before long, Peter Abisoye got an answer: Ade - his deceased friend - is not alive, but his Facebook account is still active.
"Every morning, I get birthday notifications of my family and friends from Facebook, so I don't even need to know offhand or look at the calendar for their birthdays again. The internet and social media have really brought me closer to them, even though we are separated by distance," Abisoye said. "But what I don't understand is why the social media company keep sending birthday notifications of dead people? You know, many times when it happens, like it happened to me, it makes me remember some memories of the departed ones - both the good and the bad."
After the brief moment of amazement, Abisoye said he got on the page of his deceased friend and wrote: "Ade, you remain one of the best friends I ever had in school. I remember how we used to eat burnt beans together, woo girls together and watch football matches in Adenike area on weekends. Death is so painful, but your memory is not. Live on, brother."
"I got on his page and I posted a brief birthday message in his memorial. Before I realised what was going on, about 20 of our colleagues in school had also followed suit. I guessed they must have been notified as well of Ade's birthday from Facebook. Well, I think it's good to keep the page alive, in memory and honour of the deceased," he added.
But one or two others who posted didn't even know Ade was dead.
"Someone, please tell me this is not true. I spoke with Ade two months ago and he was fine. No wonder I have been trying to reach him all this while and he's unreachable. So sad to hear, Ade," one of them wrote.
Almost every internet-ready smartphone and Facebook user today gets reminders of special events and this was perhaps the same scenario when many fans of the late female gospel singer and composer, Kefee Obareki Don-Momoh, popularly known as Kefee, woke up on Thursday, February 5, 2015 to find notifications from Facebook that she was celebrating her birthday.
Kefee died of lung failure in a Los Angeles hospital in the United States on Thursday, June 12, 2014, after spending 15 days in a coma. She was aged 34.
But not all her fans would want to believe she's dead. One of them, with the name 'PurpleiciousBabe,' wrote on a blog, bellanaija.com, on July 13, 2014, a month after her death, "Trust me, I am still in denial. I can't even mourn her. It's just not fair. Not our Kefee, so full of life and personality."
That was, perhaps, understandable.
So on February 5, when the singer was supposed to have clocked 35, many of them took to her Facebook page to pour both birthday and memorial messages in honour of the deceased. However, it seemed some were not still aware of her death.
One Emily Anukem, who posted on the deceased's Facebook page, wrote, "Happy birthday, Kefee Obareki Don-Momoh!!! Make sure you have a wonderful birthday today," whereas other fans like Uchenna Azubuike wrote, "Kefee, although you're no more here with us, I know you'd read this. Happy birthday!"
From 'Happy birthday to you,' to 'Rest on, Kefee' messages, about 113 birthday messages were posted on her Timeline.
Popular gospel singer, Sammie Okposo, had at the death of the late singer, said, "We will perform the last respects we owe our sister to the best of our abilities. We will let the world know that a queen was here and she will always be celebrated. She brought peace, happiness and love to the world even in her passing and even though we are heartbroken, we will be comforted in the fact that God knows best and we cannot question Him."
Kefee's widower, Teddy Don Momoh, also hosted a press conference to unveil her double post-humous albums and an 'Evening with Kefee,' a musical programme designed to commemorate her birthday, where he told journalists that he was still in shock over the death of his wife.
"While she was still alive, Lagosians gave her huge support and those days on her birthdays, we always did something special. This year would not be an exception. This year, we are having a programme tagged 'An Evening with Kefee,'" he had said at the event. "Keep supporting her and giving her your best, because Kefee lives on."
A place of memorial
The social media, especially Facebook, is surely one of the platforms that enables family and friends to keep the memories of their loved ones after they are long gone.
An American researcher, Emily Dunham, believes that either in the 2060s or the 2130s, there will be more Facebook profiles of dead people than of living ones.
"There are now a lot of dead people on Facebook. The main reason for this is that Facebook - and its users - are young. The average Facebook user has got older over the last few years, but the site is still used at a much higher rate by the young than by the old," she said.
She noted that based on the site's growth rate, and the age breakdown of their users over time, there are probably 10 to 20 million people who have Facebook profiles, but have since died.
She added, "These people are, at the moment, spread out pretty evenly across the age spectrum. Young people have a much lower death rate than people in their sixties or seventies, but they make up a substantial share of the dead on Facebook simply because there have been so many of them using it.
"About 290,000 US Facebook users might have died in 2013. In just seven years, this death rate will double, and in seven more years, it will double again. Even if Facebook closes registration tomorrow, the number of deaths per year will continue to grow for many decades, as the generation who was in college between 2000 and 2020 grows old."
Dunham's research was backed up by another report by an American research firm, Internet Monitor. The organisation said in the report that deceased users may be Facebook's greatest source of growth in the next century.
The report surfaced the curious projection that, if the social media giant's user base continues to grow, dead users of the platform will outnumber living ones by 2130.
Meanwhile, one of Facebook's policies is that a next-of-kin can convert a dead person's Facebook profile into a memorial page, but there are so many questions that are always asked when this happens.
According to the social media company, "There are a lot of questions surrounding passwords and access to private data that we haven't yet developed social norms for. Should accounts remain accessible? What should be made private? Should a next-of-kin have the right to access email? Should memorial pages have comments? How do we handle trolling and vandalism? Should people be allowed to interact with dead user accounts? What lists of friends should they show up on?
"These are issues that we're currently in the process of sorting out by trial and error. Death has always been a big, difficult, and emotionally charged subject, and every society finds different ways to handle it. Sooner or later, we'll figure out how to mourn."
The company also provides some tips to reporting a deceased person.
It says, "Memorialised accounts are a place for friends and family to gather and share memories after a person has passed away. Memorialising an account also helps keep it secure by preventing anyone from logging into it.
"If Facebook is made aware that a person has passed away, it's our policy to memorialise the account. Please keep in mind that we can't provide login information for someone else's account even under these circumstances. It's always against Facebook's policies to log into another person's account.
"To report a profile to be memorialised, please contact us. The word 'Remembering' will be shown next to the person's name on their profile. Depending on the privacy settings of the account, friends can share memories on the memorialised Timeline.
"Content the person shared (ex: photos, posts) stays on Facebook and is visible to the audience it was shared with. Memorialised profiles don't appear in public spaces such as in suggestions for 'People You May Know', ads or birthday reminders. No one can log into a memorialised account.
"Memorialised accounts that don't have a legacy contact can't be changed. Groups with an admin whose account was memorialised will be able to select new admin. Pages with a sole admin whose account was memorialised will be removed from Facebook if we receive a valid request.
"Additionally, your family can ask that your account be removed from Facebook. For friends and family, if you'd like to create an additional place for people on Facebook to share memories of your loved one, we suggest creating a group. If you believe we've mistakenly memorialised your account, please let us know. However, to remove a deceased person's account, verified immediate family members may request the removal of a loved one's account from Facebook."
An Information Technology and security analyst, Babawale Ojoye, told Saturday PUNCH that social media companies granting people the privilege of memorialising their friends' Facebook and other social media pages "is a good thing."
"Many people are not aware of this, but rather than letting those pages lie fallow, they could still remain busy with social activities - about the life and times of the person," he said. "But the challenge is finding someone who will serve as an administrator for that page. People in this part of the world tend to believe when a person is gone, they're gone. On several occasions, there are no arrangements made to keep their memories afresh."
Two months after her death, the Facebook page of former Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Mrs. Dora Akunyili, was still agog with social activities. There were posts about her life, burial arrangements and the ceremony proper, but that was only for two months. Whoever ran the page seemed to relax at a point, but a day after her birthday (July 14, 2015), her husband and children took to her Facebook page to write, "Our darling Dora would have been 60 yesterday - July 14 - if she were to be alive. But she is no more - felled 37 days ago by the mortal enemy, death, on Saturday, June 7, 2014.
"Beloved Dora, you had eagerly looked forward to this day, but alas, you never lived to see it. We deeply love you, Mummy..."
But for the late Goldie Harvey, the talented female singer and a Big Brother Africa star, she gets mentions on blogs and by fans on her page, an indication that her memory lingers on in the hearts of her fans.
For the late Cynthia Osokogu, who was allegedly murdered in 2012 by male friends that she met through Facebook, her page has since been memorialised, while her friends have also created groups in honour of her memorial.
However, for late Gbenga Agbana, a former journalist who worked in several media houses before his death in 2012, only those who were close to him would know he's late, as his page still gets regular posts.
The dead and the Internet
Technology experts talk about the concept of digital inheritance when a user of any of the services on the internet dies.
According to Wikipedia, "Digital inheritance is the process of handing over (personal) digital assets to (human) beneficiaries. These digital assets include digital estates and the right to use them. It may include bank accounts, writings, photographs, and social interactions.
"There are several services that offer to keep multiple passwords, sending them to people of personal choice after death. Some of these send the customer an email from time to time, prompting to confirm that that person is still alive, and failure to respond to multiple emails makes the service provider to assume that the person has deceased, and will thereafter give out the passwords as previously requested."
In the article, it was stated that when people die, they leave certain things behind, including all their online profiles, email accounts, and social media information. While some sites, including Facebook and Twitter, have policies related to death, accounts often remain dormant until deleted due to inactivity or family or friends take action.
However, as the Internet age progresses, it will come to a point where inactive accounts of deceased people will outnumber those of active users - yet another article that supports the researches of Dunham and the Internet Monitor.
By the way, Facebook isn't alone in trying to solve the digital data management problem when a person dies.
In 2013, Internet search giant, Google, began allowing people to assign beneficiaries of their Google accounts. The Inactive Account Manager sends a user a text message and an email if they haven't logged into their Gmail, Google Maps, Google Drive, YouTube or any other Google apps account for a set amount of time — between three months and 18 months.
If the user doesn't respond to Google's alert, Google will send the person's Google account data to a trusted contact or contacts, before deciding what to do with such account.
Like Facebook and Google, upon request, Twitter can close accounts and provide archives of public tweets of deceased users. When a user dies, family members are required to submit a formal request to Twitter's Trust and Safety department. However, the reporter must have a copy of the death certificate or else the company will not take action, despite obituary articles and news clips. But most times, Twitter only allows account deactivation for the deceased.
For Wikipedia, users who have made at least several hundred edits or are otherwise known for substantial contributions to the platform can be noted at a central memorial page. Wikipedia user pages are ordinarily fully edit-protected after the user has died, to prevent vandalism.
"All these are necessary measures to protect and keep in honour the memories of our loved ones. Even if they are not seen physically, they can be remembered forever online, where they keep living," IT expert, Ojoye said.