Tech

Facebook Declared Me Dead for a Month

“My family and I have received so many condolence messages that it actually got really traumatic for us all.”
October 23, 2020, 2:25pm
facebook glitch memorialize
All images courtesy of Mohd Abuzar

Mohd Abuzar, an activist, was “killed” by a Facebook glitch that on earlier occasions, has left millions of accounts on the social networking site “memorialised” despite their owners still being alive. The Memorialize feature can be used when a family member or friend dies and the account is memorialized so that the person’s loved ones can “gather and share memories after a person has passed away”. The person’s name then appears with a “Remembering” before it. In 2016, the bug labelled millions of users—including founder Mark Zuckerberg—as dead

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Abuzar has sent a legal notice to Facebook after his account was marked as Memorialized last month. He has asked for a public apology from Facebook and a monetary compensation for the trauma and inconvenience caused to him and his family. We spoke to him to know more.

When I woke up on September 13, 2020, I found one of my cousins at my place. He stays close to me and had run over in panic after logging on to Facebook. There he saw that I was declared dead, my account was memorialised and Facebook was asking my friends to pay a tribute to me on social media.

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As he ran in, he saw me and let out a sigh of relief. He then explained what had happened. I checked my account on my phone and found it weird that I was logged out because I’m usually always logged in.

I then saw these notifications where people were talking about me, and when I saw my timeline, I saw that Facebook had put me in “memorialised” accounts. I had no clue what it was back then, and so, I looked it up  and found out that this is one of Facebook’s features.

After that day, I have received frantic calls and texts from my relatives and friends. My family and I have received so many condolence messages that it actually got really traumatic for us all.

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I raised my complaint on September 13 itself and sent it to Facebook through their Support/Help centre. They asked me for a picture of me holding any government approved identity proof and I sent it to them. I did not receive any reply from them till September 16, and till then, I kept getting calls from people continuously. It never stopped. People were really worried because of my background too which is activism. I’ve always been vocal about things that need to be addressed, so people actually started thinking this was real.

I informed my close friends and colleagues about this. They continuously kept tweeting about it but Facebook did not respond to it at all. I did not get any reply from Facebook for a month, and all those calls and texts till then were exhausting. There have been times when people have called me with concern but I just couldn't handle it well and have screamed at them instead. The calls felt as if they were never-ending.

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I waited for more than a month but after that, I had no other option but to take legal action against Facebook for everything that happened. I contacted my lawyer and sent them a legal notice on October 19. I received an apology email from them the very next day and I could use my account after that. I asked for a public apology and a compensation of Rs 5 lakh (around $6,775) for the trauma they caused, but they did not even bother to get back to me for more than a month.

I’m not a social media expert and I cannot even say what can be the reason behind this but this isn’t the first time something like this has happened with people who are vocal about their views and opinions. I feel social media is controlled and there is no space for dissent. There have been times when my posts have gotten deleted for no reason.

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I’d really want to know on what basis Facebook just one day decided to declare me dead—there has to be an algorithm behind this. Facebook has this option of legacy contact and I haven’t added anybody in that.

This has been very traumatic for us all. It all looks like a joke, a tragic joke where people frantically called my family to ask if I was dead or alive. Some people might think it’s nice to read the good things people say about you when you die, but this was honestly just traumatising and took a toll on us.

In today’s time, we can only reach out to people through social media and that’s the place people often go to to be vocal about what they want, but that was taken away from me. They decided to declare me dead when we all are sitting in our homes and cannot meet people; it’s like deleting a person’s digital identity.

VICE contacted Facebook about this incident but hasn’t heard back from them at the time of publishing.

Follow Varsha on Twitter.