Instagram Memorials

The reading by Jed Brubaker, Gillian Hayes, and Paul Dourish, “Beyond the Grave: Facebook as a Site for the Expansion of Death and Mourning,” explored the ways that the living interacts with the dead on Facebook. Since Facebook also owns Instagram, I decided to look at the way that Instagram memorializes accounts.

Interestingly, they are very explicit about their policies. On the page entitled “What happens when a deceased person’s account is memorialized?” they what the features of a memorialized account. These accounts don’t look any different from regular accounts, and all of the posts the deceased person shared will still be visible. In order to memorialize an account, living users have to contact Instagram with proof of death, such as “a link to an obituary or news article.” Instagram also won’t release the login credentials of a deceased person, but they will allow someone who proves that they’re an immediate family member of the deceased to have an account removed from the site.

I think that the distinctions between a memorialized account and a regular one are very intesting. Memorialized accounts won’t appear in the “explore” page, and no changes can be made to it (including comments and followers). In this way, Instagram seems to be trying to preserve the deceased’s virtual image that they curated before their passing.

Despite all of the procedures required to memorialize an account, things still seem to go wrong occasionally. The help page “My Instagram profile has been memorialized.” helps users who have been incorrectly (or morbidly, prematurely) memorialized by Instagram. Personally, I can hardly imagine how uncanny it would be to log in to Instagram and found out that you have been deemed dead.

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  • I agree that Instagram seems to be trying to preserve the image that the user created when they were alive. Another interesting feature about Instagram memorialized accounts is that you can still direct message them, although no one will see the message because Instagram does not allow anyone to log into a memorialized account. On page 155 of “Beyond the Grave,” Kevin says posting on the deceased’s Facebook wall is still a way of speaking to the person, a way that is more specific than writing a letter. Direct messages are essentially a digital letter through social media and much more private than posting on a wall, which as we’ve seen can be interpreted as problematic. Instagram memorialized profiles are much subtler than Facebook memorialized profiles, who show the word “Remembering” next to the person’s name once memorialized.

    On your last point about logging into social media only to find that it has been incorrectly memorialized, this is another area where trolls seem to come into play. When looking into this online, I found that it has also been a Facebook joke and it is pretty easy to do. Someone in a blog asking for help to get back into their account writes, “Apparently, you need my date of birth (which friends or friends with hacked accounts have access to) and a fake obituary (because no one at Facebook really reads them apparently).”

    The difference between social medias’ policies is interesting. Instagram freezes the account to its certain place in time, while Facebook encourages you to think about assigning a Legacy Contact before you die. The deceased’s Twitter account will remain inactive until (hacked – see the hot water Twitter received for the David Carr hack of 2016 – or) a family member provides proof of death and then they deactivate it. Meanwhile, Snapchat has no policy and offers nothing other than to log into the account and delete it.

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