Facebook will use artificial intelligence to identify users that have died and prevent these accounts from appearing in event invitation recommendations or birthday reminders to avoid distress for their friends and family.

The social media giant has a feature where the Facebook account of someone who has died can become “memorialised”, allowing for it to remain and become a place for friends and family to remember the individual and commemorate events.

The Facebook algorithm already prevents memorialised accounts from appearing as suggestions like a regular account, meaning the platform won’t suggest to invite your dead friend to your party, or tell you to wish them happy birthday.

But in a blog post announcing changes to how Facebook handles the accounts of deceased users, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said sometimes the friends and family do not want to memorialise an account straight away, meaning it may appear and cause distress.

The company will now be using artificial intelligence to identify users that have passed away and prevent their accounts from appearing in their friends’ NewsFeeds.

“In addition to creating supportive tools, we also hope to minimise experiences that might be painful,” Sandberg said in the post.
“We’ve heard from people that memoralising a profile can feel like a big step that not everyone is immediately ready to take. If an account hasn’t yet been memorialised, we use AI to help keep it from showing up in places that might cause distress, like recommending that person be invited to events or sending a birthday reminder to their friends. We’re working to get better and faster at this.”

Facebook also announced a number of other changes to the way it handles the accounts of deceased users.

It has now launched a “tributes section” for memorialised accounts, where friends and family can share posts and memories separately from the original timeline.

“This lets people see the types of posts that are most helpful to them as they grieve and remember their loved ones,” Sandberg said.

In 2015, Facebook launched a new feature allowing a user to choose a “legacy contact” – a family member or friend that will get control of their account if they pass away.

These contacts will now be able to moderate the tributes section on the memorialised account, allowing them to change tagging settings, remove tags and edit who can post and see posts on the page.

“This helps them manage content that might be hard for friends and family to see if they’re not ready,” Sandberg said.

“These new controls build on features we’ve had in place for years, like the ability to update the person’s profile picture and cover photo, and to pin a post to the top of their profile.”

The new features are the result of feedback from “people of different religions and cultural backgrounds, as well as experts and academics,” Sandberg said.

“We know the loss of a friend or family member can be devastating - and we want Facebook to be a place where people can support each other while honouring the memory of their loved ones,” she said.

The way social media accounts are handled and owned after an individual’s death is becoming an increasing issue, with a number of recent legal test casts and examples of algorithms going wrong.

Facebook has previously been criticised for featuring deceased friends on other users’ “year in review” posts, something which has been labelled as “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty”.

The social media giant also recently lost a court case in Germany after it was ruled that social media accounts can be inherited in the same way that diaries and private letters can.