[size=15pt]Unexpected deaths leave online worlds behind[/size]
By CRYSTAL LINDELL, NORTHWEST HERALD
Ryanne Mace died more than a year and a half ago as a 19-year-old victim of the 2008 Northern Illinois University shootings, but that hasn’t put an end to her online identity.
Her MySpace page remains online and continues to display her last status message, “Happy Valentine’s Day Everybody!”
“We have not changed anything about it,” her friend Ed Zordani said.
And the Carpentersville native’s e-mail account also is active, said her dad, Eric Mace.
“I wanted to leave that thing there [because] kids have this way of wanting to write things down and send them off,” he said. “It’s not even a matter of if you read them or not.”
As social media continues to grow, unexpected deaths are leaving behind virtual worlds such as Mace’s. Many times, makeshift memorial sites pop up on profiles, but others linger indefinitely. Over the years, most online companies have had to evolve their policies for those types of situations.
Camille Ede, domain services director at GoDaddy, an online hosting service, said they usually get two or three requests a month from families whose loved ones recently died.
“People really don’t think about it,” she said. “To the person, of course, it’s an extremely unique situation.”
Ede said they ask loved ones to provide a copy of the death certificate, documentation showing they can act on behalf of the person who died, and photo identification, among other things. They also have to fill out an online form.
After that, Ede said GoDaddy tries to process requests within about 24 hours.
“[The process] sort of is more evolved because we are dealing with different situations every day,” she said. “We think we’ve seen it all, and then we see something else.”
Google, which offers e-mail accounts and blog sites, has similar policies in place.
According to a company statement, Google does not proactively remove content from Blogger accounts unless requested to do so by a family member or friend who can verify the death.
And with Gmail accounts, the company asks that families submit a death certificate, a copy of a document giving the loved one power of attorney, and in some cases a birth certificate, among other things.
Meanwhile, Facebook accounts can be officially put into a “memorial state,” something the company instituted after the Virginia Tech shootings, said Kathleen Loughlin, a company spokesman, via e-mail.
In that state, certain profile sections and features are hidden to protect the privacy of the departed, and the account is given stronger privacy settings so that only friends can see it.
The person also is removed from any groups, among other things.
Beyond the profiles, Facebook also offers the ability for loved ones to create groups, which allows those left behind to set up online memorials.
When Mace was killed, Zordani said one of the first things he did was start to set up a Facebook group in her honor.
“I was about to push the button to create, and I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I felt that doing it would have made it concrete – that maybe it was just a bad dream.”
However, within a few hours another friend had a group up and running.
“I helped her take care of it,” Zordani said. “I was logging into the Facebook group four or five times a day, and it made me so happy to see the group swell ... because I saw that Ryanne touched so many lives.”
Zordani also continues to administer Ryanne’s MySpace account, the password for which he got from her family.
“People sending messages to it makes them feel better,” he said. “Some people will send long, detailed messages about how they’re feeling and sometimes I will reply to that. I will tell them I had the same exact feeling.”
A statement from MySpace.com, which has more than 70 million users in the United States alone, said that the company deals with each case of a user’s death individually.
“We often hear from families that a user’s profile is a way for friends to celebrate a person’s life, giving friends a positive outlet to connect ... during the grieving process,” read a statement from the company.
The company also said that it did not allow anyone to assume control of a deceased user’s profile by giving out the password. However, MySpace will delete a profile if the family requests that it be taken down.
Mike Patterson, a Libertyville native, was so intrigued with MySpace profiles left behind after unexpected deaths that he created MyDeathSpace.com in 2005.
The site, which is not affiliated with MySpace, links news articles about a death with the person’s profile.
Patterson now lives in California and likens MyDeathSpace to an online cemetery.
“I tell everyone that if my friend passes away [in Libertyville] I’m not going to be able to visit his or her gravestone and pay my respects,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to do it online.”
As the online world evolves though, so must his site. He said he’s in the process of adapting it so that Facebook profiles also can be linked to news articles.
As for Eric Mace, he said he’s just glad that his daughter lives on in cyberspace.
“It’s one way that we can keep a little bit of her out there,” he said. “[And] I don’t want to take anything away from anyone.”