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On Facebook, the dead live on [Updated]

January 19, 2010 |  1:29 pm

Last year, colleague and close friend Annette Haddad -- whose 47th birthday would have been today -- tragically died.

But not on Facebook.

People who were friends of Annette on the social network got a notice this morning that it was her birthday, just as they did when she was alive. Her profile remains intact.

It's not an oversight that her profile is still there. In most cases, it's Facebook policy.

"We used to take down a profile when we found out a person had passed," said Facebook spokesperson Meredith Chin. Then came the horrible 2007 shootings at Virgina Tech that left 27 students and five teachers dead. Some of the victims had Facebook profiles.

"There was an outcry from people who wanted a way to remember these people," Chin said. "They wanted a way to still connect with the profiles to leave posts, sort of like sending messages to the person who had passed."

The service started a process of memorializing a profile but leaving it on the network. When Facebook gets a notice that a member has died (it has to include a link to an obituary, news article or some other proof of death), it locks the profile so that only confirmed friends have access to it and can leave messages. Birthday notices are still sent out, and there is no indication placed on the profile that the person is deceased. 

(However, on request of a close, surviving family member, such as a spouse or sibling, a profile will be removed, Chin said).

It was more than a bit macabre to see that birthday notice this morning. But it served as a sweet reminder of Annette's sharp wit. There is a good chance she would have thought it was funny. And then she would have yelled at me -- with a smile -- for needing it to remember her birthday. 

[Corrected at 2:12 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the Virginia Tech massacre took place in 1997.]

-- David Colker

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