Earlier this afternoon, my Facebook account displayed a beautiful message to my friends, asking them to “remember” me and “find comfort in the things others share” about me. It was really touching; there was a little drawing of a flower. The thing is, I’m not dead. Many other people were reporting on Friday afternoon that the same thing happened to them.
“For a brief period today, a message meant for memorialized profiles was mistakenly posted to other accounts,” A Facebook spokesman said in an emailed statement, “this was a terrible error that we have now fixed. We are very sorry that this happened and we worked as quickly as possible to fix it.”
Memorialization is a setting available to preserve a Facebook profile with limited functionality after someone has died. Although Facebook didn’t specify the extent of the glitch, an unscientific survey of my colleagues, their networks, and my own indicate that the problem was widespread but not universal.
A message reading “we hope people who love [username] will find comfort in the things others share to remember and celebrate her life” displayed at the top of affected profiles, both for the users themselves and for others visiting the page. The message appeared on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s own account, too.
Naturally, having an apparent glitch killing off a whole bunch of Facebook users during the week of a divisive election made a lot of people nervous on Friday, leading to speculation that the message was indicative of an intentional attack against some Facebook users.
It appears that many of those worries were based on users seeing the error spread through their own networks of friends and families who might share similar interests or beliefs. For instance: Many of the people I know who are affected by the glitch are journalists, but the same could be said for the people I know, period, who are within the “filter bubble” of posts that I have access to on the network. If a widespread glitch affected most users on the site, I’d probably notice it among journalists first. And as Facebook’s statement makes pretty clear, the message was instead the result of a mistake, and not malice.
Facebook users can request to have their accounts memorialized after death. Memorialized accounts are either managed by a legacy contact or not at all; once memorialized, Facebook doesn’t allow anyone to be logged in to the account. The company allows friends or family members to request the memorialization of someone else’s account; there’s a more rigorous application to do this for an account with whom you’re not already friends.
It doesn’t appear that any of the actual functionality of a memorialized account went into effect on Friday, aside from the greeting displayed at the top of a profile.
This post has been updated.