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Why Facebook Ghost Accounts are a Good Thing

Published in ChicagoNow, May 14, 2019

Recently, I joined a writers’ group in which many of us have talked about creating memoirs. Some take the form of poems and others range from the comic to the poignant. What they share is a desire to leave something behind for our children and grandchildren to understand our lives and the lives of those who came before us.

A common feeling among the members of this group is the regret that we didn’t ask our parents and grandparents more about their lives. I never bothered to question my grandparents, so what little I know comes from my parents’ recollections. And what I know about my parents and mother-in-law comes from their late-in-life memories. When I knew what questions I really wanted to ask, it was too late.

All of these feelings drew me to an article by Robert Gebelhoff in the Washington Post, Facebook is becoming a vast digital graveyard — and a gift to the future. If you have ever tried to remove the Facebook page of a deceased loved one, you know that you can only memorialize it. When my mother died a little over four years ago, I was appalled by this. But today I feel differently. I just put her name into the Facebook search bar and there she was.

Her “Ghost Account” is filled with entries that bring a smile to my face. While Mom loved Facebook, she never figured out how to write on a timeline other than her own. So all of her birthday, anniversary, and congratulatory wishes for others reside there. Here’s one for my brother that brought a smile to my face for its Jewish guilt trip via social media:

When she joined Facebook in January of 2010, we were all quite surprised. She had only used the computer to play bridge, so this was a whole new world:

I don’t know how she thought I would see this message, and I don’t remember the circumstances behind it, but it’s pretty typical of my mother:

I do remember her frustrations with her ancient computer, but how would the kid who fixed her computer find this on her timeline? I tried to explain this to her to no avail:

When she made a mistake and wished a happy anniversary to the wrong couple (on her timeline, of course), she thought the main problem was mixing up the dates. I could never convince her that this was not the only issue with her Facebook technique:

Looking at posts like these that family members added to her timeline bring back beautiful and humorous memories of my mother. This one actually had to do with a raunchy commercial Mom recorded for her granddaughter’s radio station in which she said, “I love Mojo. I could squeeze his ass.” It was pretty funny coming from her 88-year-old voice, which we can still hear on her timeline. Note that she reminded my son she was not 89:

Here I was reminded of how she gave her love to her great grandchildren.

And this birthday wish made me cry:

After my mother died, I was upset that I couldn’t get rid of her memorialized account. But as someone who is struggling to write a memoir of my life for my grandkids to read, I find myself agreeing with Robert Gebelhoff when he says,

“Today, tens of millions of dead Facebook users have left behind such digital remains, but this is set to increase exponentially in the coming decades… This matters because, for the first time, humans have the power to leave behind far more personalized histories than any generation before them. We don’t have to rely on the recollection of our descendants for our memory to survive, and we don’t have accept that our collective experiences will fade away with time.”

Of course, there is no assurance that Facebook will maintain this data. But I’m no longer upset that it’s still there. In fact, now that some time has passed, it was fun taking a trip down Mom’s timeline. Just in case Facebook decides to dump it all, however, I think I’ll get back to my memoir.


by Laurie Levy
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