Maine's Rusty Foster, 36, found out the hard way that it's pretty easy to fake a person's death on Facebook. As a prank, Foster's friends falsely reported him dead last week via Facebook's "Memorialization Request" page, which only requires the "deceased" person's name, email and a link to an obituary for the social media site to declare someone dead and block access to their account. Foster's friends used the real obituary of a different person with a similar name to trick Facebook into thinking he had died.
When Buzzfeed's Katie Notopoulos got word of the incident, she used the same tactic to kill off one of her coworkers, the very much alive Buzzfeed FWD editor John Herrman, with the obituary of "John Arthur Herrmann," a 74-year-old Nebraskan who died in June.
This is what Facebook considers a valid obituary of me. Cause they don't know where I live or that I posted after 2011. obits.al.com/obituaries/bir…— Rusty Foster (@rustyk5) January 4, 2013
Facebook deactivated Herrman's account until about an hour after he filled out a special form. When Buzzfeed asked why it was so easy to fake someone's death, the social media site said, "We try to take all necessary precautions when processing user requests and provide an appeals process for any possible mistake we may make."
According to ABC News, Facebook reactivated Foster's account 27 hours after he reminded them he was alive, just enough time for his friends to play around with his "dead" status.
"The only thing that happened was some of my friends posted little mock-eulogies for me, because word got around that I was locked out, due to a temporary case of death," Foster said.
@anildash FB knows so much about me… why can't it tell that I'm not dead? It makes no sense. Only way I can figure it is they don't care.— Rusty Foster (@rustyk5) January 4, 2013
Jezebel pointed out the story of a Buzzfeed commenter, who said that Facebook's simple "Memorialization Request" form caused confusion in the actual death of a friend.
This happened to one of my good friends who was tragically killed in a car accident a day after getting engaged to her bf of 8 years. Someone (not family) got the page memorialized which removed all of her quotes and her description of herself and her life that she had put on there herself. Her brother, bf, and parents wanted to keep her page alive as a place where friends and family could continue to post memories and messages to her and pictures and see her happy life in her own words. I'm sure it was done by someone with the best intentions, but it still robbed a lot of people of that chance to keep that part of her alive. Her page is gone now (she's been gone for 4 years now) and they ended up making a fb group so pictures and messages can still be put up, but it's not quite the same. They need to take another look at their process, not only because of the pranking, but because it robs real people of the chance to keep some memories alive.