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Florida celebrates National AMBER Alert Awareness Day


national.amber.awareness.day

With pictures of missing children flashing across billboards on our streets and highways, alerts over our televisions or radio, or in an email or text message blast, AMBER Alerts are hard to miss.

On Sunday, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey joined Florida’s local, state, federal and private partners to commemorate National AMBER Alert Awareness Day.

January 13th was National AMBER Alert Awareness Day.  This year marked the 17th anniversary of the abduction and death of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman of Texas.  She is the girl who the system is now named and whose death and abduction the U.S. Department of Justice remembers on this day.

According to an FDLE release, Florida established its AMBER Alert Plan 13 years ago.  It was the second state in the nation to do so.  Since the start of Florida’s program, the AMBER Plan has expanded to include billboards, dynamic highway message signs, lottery machines, email and text messages and messages through social media.

The FDLE has encouraged Floridians to sign up for free AMBER Alerts to help locate and quickly recover children when they go missing.

“The AMBER Alert has made a huge difference in law enforcement’s ability to find abducted children,” says Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.  “It’s like having thousands of eyes, all at once looking for this child.”

Approximately 40,000 children are reported missing every year in Florida, with the majority of those being reported as runaways.  In 2012, the FDLE Missing Endangered Persons Information Clearinghouse issued nine AMBER Alerts and 31 Missing Child Alerts.

“Florida’s citizens have been vital to the success of the Florida AMBER Plan,” Commissioner Bailey said. “We encourage Floridians to take a few moments today to sign up to receive AMBER Alert notifications so they can help law enforcement better protect Florida’s children.”

Through their Facebook page, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement offers tips while encouraging people to sign up for its free AMBER Alerts through its website.

More than 20,000 people have signed up to receive Florida AMBER Alerts at www.missingchildrenalert.com.

The weekend of October 27th on The Credit Report with Bill Lewis


Interesting guests and timely topics will be on AM 740 WSBR and AM 1470 WWNN the weekend of October 27th and The Credit Report with Bill Lewis.

As a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues, The Credit Report with Bill Lewis can be found on AM 740 WSBR in south Florida. Hosted by Bill Lewis, the show broadcasts live weekdays at 7am.

Originally launched on AM 1400 WFTL in 2004, as the “Credit Restoration Consultants Hour,” Bill Lewis provided self-help tips and advice regarding credit repair, finances, and related topics. Throughout the years, Bill’s show strayed from the original concept of providing financial awareness to his listeners.

In an effort to strengthen his listener base and to broaden the topics hosted, Bill launched The Credit Report with Bill Lewis upon moving to AM 1470 WWNN within the Beasley Broadcasting group.

Listeners were searching for help regarding a myriad of topics from credit repairextreme coupon shopping, and foreclosure matters, but welcomed the political format that Bill introduced locally to a south Florida audience.

Since the show’s inception, Bill Lewis has interviewed some of the country’s leading politicians, including: Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Herman Cain, Chris Christie, Jon Huntsman, Allen West, Rick Scott, George LeMieux, Jeff Atwater, Pam Bondi, Marco Rubio, Sharon Day, Alex Sink, Adam Putnam, Charlie Crist, Bill McCollum, Jeff Kottkamp, Jennifer Carroll, Christine O’Donnell, among others.

In addition, The Credit Report with Bill Lewis has hosted a number of politicians as well as attorneys and financial experts in the south Florida area. Among the dozens that have appeared on the show are Carlos Reyes, Al Lamberti, Chip LaMarca, Adam Hasner, Ellyn Bogdanoff, Tom Rooney, Roger Stone, Bob Davids, Lori Parrish, Richard Denapoli, Rico Petrocelli, Jamie McDonnell, Jim Lewis, Tom Lauder, and John Contini.

The Credit Report with Bill Lewis airs live, Monday through Friday from 7am-8am Eastern Time with an encore presentation Saturday’s at 3pm on AM 740 WSBR. Streaming audio is available at http://www.wsbrradio.com and on air participation is welcome at (888) 721-0074.

If you miss the early broadcast, The Credit Report with Bill Lewis is still available weeknights at 9pm Eastern Time, Saturday’s at 6pm and Sunday’s at 8pm on AM 1470 WWNN by streaming audio at http://www.wwnnradio.com.

Going head-to-head against Steve Kane and Jimmy Cefalo, Bill Lewis promises more “talk” and fewer commercials.

For daily updates on The Credit Report with Bill Lewis, you can join Bill’s 21,950 plus fans on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/thecreditreportwithbilllewis.

James Holmes: Colorado shooter an online mystery


Cloaked in as much mystery as the midnight showing of Batman: “Dark Knight Rises,” it appears that James Holmes – the alleged shooter at a Aurora, Colorado, movie theater that left 12 dead and 58 injured – has little to no digital footprint. 

It is almost as if James Holmes, 24, formerly of San Diego, never existed.

Since the tragic shooting early Friday, law enforcement authorities, news organizations, citizens throughout the country – myself included – have been trying to learn more about Holmes. 

While the majority of Americans share their entire lives online through social media with status updates, posts, photos and location check-ins, not so James Holmes.

While history has proven that crazed lone gunman often telegraph their intentions long before committing acts of violence, not so James Holmes.

Unlike Tucson gunman Jared Lee Loughner and Norway shooter Anders Behring Breivik, it appears that no online confession was made by James Holmes.

Scouring the Internet for “James Holmes” was no easy task.  With thousands of Americans sharing this common name, one would have to look long and hard.  After all, early news reports indicated that Holmes barely existed in real life let alone in cyberspace.

An experienced investigator and social media expert myself, I found no existence of a Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Classmates, Pinterest, Google Plus, or LiveJournal account for Holmes.  I was able to locate an old MySpace account for Holmes where his only post was an initial one when he initiated the account.  With the exception of MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson, Holmes had no “real” MySpace friends. 

TMZ over the weekend also reported the James Holmes MySpace account.

Holmes may be different from other alleged shooters. The man arrested in the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, Jared Loughner, had a MySpace page and a YouTube account. Anders Breivik, accused of killing 77 people in Norway, published a manifesto online. Holmes, in contrast, appears to be what some call “Web dead.”

While it is possible that Holmes simply didn’t have much of an online identity, it seems unlikely that he had no online fingerprints at all. Some experts suggest an online identity under a pseudonym may emerge, or that Holmes, as a tech-savvy graduate student, limited himself university communications that were password-protected.

Most social media services – such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus – have strict policies requiring users to go by their real name.  In any event, false profiles that appear real do exist among the various social media networks.  Appearing real and left unflagged by another user or “friend,” an individual such as Holmes could conceivably exist without revealing his true identity.

James Holmes did have an old MySpace account. 

There is also the possibility that Holmes worked hard to erase his identity online, but experts think that possibility is unlikely.

“In the age of social media and an instant online presence, it’s extremely rare not to have a digital footprint,” stated Michael Fertik, the CEO and founder of Reputation.com.  “My guess is that we don’t know what name or handle he was using or we just haven’t found it yet.”

Fertik added that services such as Reputation.com would help clear some of an Internet history but not all of it. 

Complicating matters is the fact that “James Holmes” is an extremely common name.  In the hours after he was named as the suspect, people flocked to the Internet in an effort to learn more about him. So much so, that another James Holmes – residing in nearby Littleton – had his Facebook page flooded with comments and friend requests.

“I appreciate the fact that you are trying to become better-informed about the occurrences last night in Aurora, but you have been somewhat mislead, in that I am not the man who did it,” the misidentified James Holmes wrote on his Facebook wall.  “I am not a 24-year-old gun-slinging killer from Aurora, I am a 22-year old book-slinging mass eater from Littleton.”  The Facebook Timeline was signed: “Regards, A different guy named James Holmes.”

Over the weekend, another “James Holmes” was misidentified through a Colorado AR-15 Shooters forum.  With over 248 posts in a forum named after the very weapon used in the Aurora massacre, this particular “Holmes” – under the user name “IDmaster” – is in the clear.  He made several posts following the shooting and arrest of the “real” Holmes.

“Holmes could be using a different name, some variation of his name or another name entirely,” stated SEO expert Martin Chernacov of 4CompuService .  “For all we know, he could have a significant online presence that we aren’t aware of yet.”

Common name or not, James Holmes does have a history.

Holmes is originally from the San Diego area having resided with his mother, Arlene, 56, in the 13300 block of Sparren Avenue.  He graduated from Westview High School in 2006.

Following high school, Holmes went on to earn a B.S. degree in neuroscience from the University of California, Riverside, where he graduated with honors in 2010.  While in college he lived on Pentland Way and Everton Place in Riverside. 

Holmes drove a 2000 Hyundai Tiburon with Colorado tag number 119ROC. With the exception of a 2011 traffic citation for speeding, it appears he has never been arrested or accused of criminal activity.

Holmes has never filed for bankruptcy, does not own any real property, does not have any liens or judgments filed against him, and has alternately used the names: “James E. Holmes,” “James C. Holmes,” and “James Holmes.”

Holmes does not appear to be regularly employed, nor does he hold a valid concealed weapons permit, professional license or voter registration card.    His cell phone is registered to his mother’s address in San Diego through Verizon Wireless.  As of Monday, the service was still connected but went to directly to voicemail.

Holmes was a student at the University of Colorado, but – according to university officials – withdrew last month. He was studying for a PhD in neuroscience.  One of his last enrolled classes was called “Biological Basis of Psychiatric and Neurological Disorders.”

According to Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, Holmes is being held in solitary confinement under suicide watch at the county jail in Centennial, about 13 miles from the movie theater where the tragic shooting occurred. 


Bill Lewis is the principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” — a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends and issues on AM 740 WSBR in south Florida.

Anonymous takedown of Facebook a mainstream media mishap


For millions of Facebook users who suffered from social media withdrawal late last week as the world’s largest social media network experienced disruptions, all is now calm.

Access to your Facebook account should be fully restored.

Contrary to numerous mainstream media reports, the loosely associated hacktivist group “Anonymous” was not to blame. Anonymous did not attack Facebook nor at anytime did it ever claim responsibility for attacking the world’s largest social networking service.

The mainstream media simply got the story wrong and are now jumping through hoops to correct themselves.

The Washington Post, CBS News, Forbes, PCWorld, New Jersey Newsroom and RT.com all reported that Anonymous claimed responsibility for taking down Facebook on Thursday. The evidence offered to substantiate these reports came in the form of two distinct tweets from YourAnonNews celebrating the news that Facebook was down.

One tweet said, “Looks like good old Facebook is having packet problems,” followed by another tweet: “Oh yeah … RIP Facebook a new sound of tango down ….”

Facebook previously confirmed that the temporary outages experienced by users were not the result of a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack.

“Some users briefly experienced issues loading the site,” stated Michael Kirkland, a Facebook spokesman. “The issues have since been resolved and everyone should now have access to Facebook. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

The Next Web is reporting that they have also confirmed Anonymous was not responsible for disabling Facebook, stating: “A Facebook spokesperson told us: ‘Last night’s outage was not the result of a DDoS.’”

If a DDoS attack was not responsible for taking down Facebook, it is highly unlikely that Anonymous was responsible given the fact that a Distributed Denial of Service attack is the weapon of choice for the Anonymous hacktivist.

Celebrating Facebook’s misfortune on Twitter is not the same as claiming responsibility for that misfortune.

In an attempt to clarify its position, Anonymous issued a statement denying any responsibility for disabling Facebook while reassuring the public they have no interest in taking down the 900 million user social networking giant.

The following is an excerpt from that statement:

Anonymous Press Release – We Did NOT Attack Facebook

This morning (Friday, June 1) it was reported by many mainstream media outlets that Anonymous had attacked the servers of Facebook and caused interruptions in service in a number of countries. We have investigated these allegations and have found them utterly false and without basis.

As this false report began to go viral in the mainstream media this morning, key Anonymous organizers from all over the world and in many countries gathered in the IRC channels we use to communicate. A quick poll of everyone present, representing a very broad spectrum of the global collective — quickly showed that no one in the actual Anonymous knew anything about an attack on Facebook. Most showed surprise because we all believed that we had successfully squashed the fail Op Facebook months ago, setting the record straight once and for all.

So having determined that no one in Anonymous knew anything about an attack on Facebook, we then turned our attention to the facts. We began with the statement released by Facebook. In that statement they indicated that they knew what the problem was, what it was that caused these service interruptions in various countries — and that it was an INTERNAL issue caused by a problem with some of their servers. Not only did Anonymous NOT attack Facebook, but there was no attack at all. Facebook IT’s were just having a bad day.

So what happened here? How did mainstream media get it so completely wrong? A careful analysis of the events this morning tell the story. It’s a story of lies, deceit — and mainstream media failing in it’s most basic journalistic obligations. None of which surprises us much.

Finally let us, while we have your attention — address the Anonymous attitude towards Facebook. The fact is that Anonymous has a love-hate relationship with Facebook. While we enjoy the power of social networking media to do our work, bring positive change to the world and spread our message — we utterly despise the current management of Facebook and it’s evil anti-privacy and anti-anonymity policies. We are also not at all happy about their cooperation with law enforcement and intelligence agencies in tyrannical countries around the world, including the USA. Facebook has much to be ashamed of, and has earned the hatred of all human rights and information activists.

But that said, they ARE a personal and social media platform. One that has been used by these same activists to bring about much freedom and justice in this world. Anonymous has certain core principles, and one of those is that we NEVER attack the media — even media we strongly disagree with. There is NO Op Facebook, and there NEVER was. Anonymous did NOT attack Facebook, and we NEVER will.

SIGNED — Anonymous

Anonymous Operations

Peoples Liberation Front – http://www.PeoplesLiberationFront.net irc.voxanon.net #VoxAnon

Reliable Twitter Accounts: @AnonPublicRel @PLF2012 @Doemela @DiscordiAnon @AnonyOps @AnonMedics @AnonOpsSweden (NOT exhaustive, just examples)

The reporting by numerous mainstream media outlets that Anonymous was responsible for bringing Facebook down speaks volumes to the power of social media.

Jumping to an erroneous conclusion based upon the power of an internationally known Internet hacktivist collective group and the influence it wields in contemporary affairs can certainly bolster a slow news day. Facebook will live to see another day.

Can anyone say Facebook party?


The first Facebook Family and Friends Meet-Up at Wings Plus on April 30th went pretty well. Despite four straight days of rain, three NBA playoff games, two NHL playoff games, an earlier Miami Marlins game, and Dancing with the Stars on ABC, they still managed to have 141 people turn out.

The second Facebook Family and Friends Meet-Up at Wings Plus in Coral Springs on May 22nd produced a slightly higher turnout. Despite yet another Miami Heat playoff game, torrential downpours, a tornado watch, flash flooding throughout Broward County, Dancing with the Stars on ABC and American Idol on FOX, they managed 151 in attendance.

Generally known as the “The Cafe Versailles of Broward” or the place “where the politically elite meet,” Wings Plus is the perfect Northwest Broward venue to stage a meet and greet for their social network of friends and family.

In recent months, Presidential candidates Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich have all visited Brian Walsh at Wings Plus. Mitt Romney visited in 2008 and George W. Bush visited when he was President of the United States.

It has even been rumored that Brian Walsh is attempting to have President Barack Obama pay a visit to Wings Plus.

With so many friends and family between the social networks of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, MySpace, Meetup, Yelp and myLife, Brian Walsh has decided to stage another Facebook Friends and Family Meet-Up at Wings Plus in Coral Springs.

Many of their Facebook friends wanted to attend but could not because of the rain. Many wanted the event to be rescheduled.

Despite the sports playoffs, television shows, and torrential downpours throughout South Florida, the event were not canceled but went on as planned.

With that said, Wings Plus is planning a “make-up” event. If you missed the first party on April 30th or the second party on May 22nd, please consider coming out on Tuesday, June 19th for an even bigger event.

Based upon the success of the event, Brian Walsh is considering a monthly “Facebook Party” through the election cycle and Christmas.

“I’m glad to see so many new faces,” said Brian Walsh, the longtime owner of Wings Plus. “Between the local and national elections, we have certainly seen a lot of increased activity around here.”

Wings Plus has hosted hundreds of state, local, and national candidates for public office in the last two decades. Numerous charity fundraisers also find a home at Wings Plus.

The Facebook Friends and Family Meet-Up will be held Tuesday, June 19th from 6pm until 9pm at the Sample Road location of Wings Plus. Please attend and meet your Facebook friends in person.

Let’s see if the power of social media is really effective and jam pack Wings Plus that evening.  Hopefully, the skies will be clear and their will be no rain in the forecast.

To RSVP on Facebook, please go to: https://www.facebook.com/events/418180991538109.

To learn more about the Wings Plus at 9880 West Sample Road in Coral Springs, please visit them at www.wingsplus.com.

“Don’t forget to bring the kids,” concluded Walsh. “We have a surprise in store for them.”

Bill Lewis’ Facebook Meet Up Attracts Big Crowd In Coral Springs

‘Pay to Play’ comes to Facebook as it starts charging users


Now that I have your attention, the headline above is true. Paying to be popular has come to Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform.

With over 900 million members worldwide, the social networking giant has begun offering users a chance to be better noticed by their friends by testing a “pay-to-be-popular” option.

While “signing up will always be free,” has always been the Facebook motto, spotlighting your status now comes at a price in New Zealand as some users are being prompted with “Highlight” feature costing up to $2 when entering their status update.

The key phrase here: “Signing up” will always be free. Being “highlighted” to your friends comes at a price.

Recent studies show that only 12 percent of a Facebook user’s friends see the average status update. The Highlight feature promises to make a user’s post more prominent by allowing it to appear higher in the news feeds of friends as well as appearing in the news feeds of more friends.

The trial run is being quietly carried out on Facebook’s 1.4 million New Zealand users as a test to determine whether or not they are interested in the feature and whether they would be willing to spotlight themselves among friends for a price.

Originally reported in New Zealand’s Stuff magazine, the new feature was initially suspected to be a scam. However, it has been confirmed as a genuine feature by Facebook.

“We’re constantly testing new features across Facebook,” said Mia Garlick, a spokesperson at Facebook. “This particular test is simply to gauge people’s interest in this method of sharing among their friends.”

The test includes several different methods of spotlighting a Facebook user. While some highlighted posts are very inexpensive, others cost up to $2 each. Payment can be made instantly via PayPal or credit card.

In the latest of a sequence of money-making efforts by Facebook, test participants will have the option to “highlight” a post after submitting it. Friends will then see the word “highlighted” under the post.

Based upon the need for attention and a user’s budget, the decision whether to “highlight” a specific Facebook post and to what extent is left to them.

A free option of Highlight is also available to limited test users.

Highlight comes as Facebook is gearing up for an initial public offering, something expected to value the social media giant at close to $100 billion.

The company’s recent slowdown of growth has prompted Facebook to experiment and concentrate its efforts on making money. The company’s imminent stock market flotation has also added more pressure. Currently, most of Facebook’s money comes from advertising across the site.

Over the weekend, Facebook also unveiled an application store, where for the first time users must pay for some of the available apps.

With 5,000 friends and 35,922 fans on Facebook, I always wondered whether my “message” was being heard. Now I know the answer.

Highlight and “pay to be popular” is not yet available in the United States.

Clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook not protected speech according to federal judge


 

Clicking the “Like” button on Facebook does not qualify for First Amendment protection, a United States District Court judge ruled, dismissing claims that a Virginia sheriff improperly monitored the virtual support of several now former employees.

As the November election approached in 2009, Sheriff B.J. Roberts, of Hampton, Va., learned that six of his employees were actively supporting retired chief deputy Jim Adams for sheriff. These employees had expressed their support for Adams by clicking “Like” on his campaign Facebook page and by attending a barbeque fundraiser on his behalf.

Following a successful re-election bid, Roberts fired several employees, including three uniformed deputies and three civilian workers who supported Adams.

Bobby Bland, Daniel Carter, David Dixon, Robert McCoy, John Sandhofer and Debra Woodward sued Roberts in the Eastern District of Virginia for violating their First Amendment rights.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Roberts allegedly called an agency meeting in which he advised sheriff’s office staff to get on the “long train” with him, rather than ride the “short train” with Adams.

In a motion for summary judgment against the complaint, Roberts countered that some of the employees were fired because of their poor work performance or because he wanted to replace them with sworn deputies. The uniformed deputies were terminated because their actions “hindered the harmony and efficiency of the office.”

In his order, U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson ruled that “liking” a Facebook page does not qualify as protected speech. While public employees are typically allowed to speak as citizens on matters of public concern, simply clicking the “Like” button did not constitute free and expressive speech.

“The sheriff’s knowledge of the posts only becomes relevant if the court finds the activity of liking a Facebook page to be constitutionally protected,” Jackson wrote in his opinion. “It is the court’s conclusion that merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection. In cases where courts have found that constitutional speech protections extended to Facebook posts, actual statements existed in the record.”

The legal matter enters a vaguely interpreted area of the law as previous cases have dealt with actual written postings on social networks such as Facebook and not the mouse click of a “Like” button.

Nationally recognized constitutional attorney and law professor Bruce Rogow disagreed with Jackson’s ruling.

“A communicative act is a form of free speech and while clicking ‘like’ on Facebook is a minimal act, it is a form of communication thus protected under the First Amendment,” Rogow advised. “Although simply a mouse click, you are clearly conveying a message of support to others.”

But in his ruling, Judge Jackson added, “Simply liking a Facebook page is insufficient. It is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection. The court will not attempt to infer the actual content of Carter’s posts from one click of a button on Adams’ Facebook page.”

Jackson also ruled that Roberts is entitled to qualified immunity, even if the plaintiffs had posted written statements supporting Adams on Facebook.

“In a case where the plaintiffs have asked the court itself to engage in extensive guesswork, an objectively reasonable official in the sheriff’s position cannot be expected to engage in that same calculus,” he said. “A balancing which has been difficult for multiple courts to engage is difficult more so for a sheriff attempting to ensure his actions do not impede upon the constitutional rights of his employees.”

“Taking the facts in the light more favorable to the plaintiffs, Sheriff Roberts is entitled to qualified immunity,” the court concluded.

Roberts, a law enforcement professional with over four decades experience, was unavailable for comment when contacted.

“By going to a candidate’s Facebook page and liking it, you are making a political statement,” concluded Rogow. “This is a form of protected speech.”

Togetherville: Facebook for kids is shutting down


At high noon on Sunday, March 11th the “child-friendly” Togetherville social network will be discontinued.  Purchased by the Walt Disney Company early last year, Mickey Mouse is now saying good-bye to all his friends and disbanding thousands of neighborhoods. 

Created in 2010, founder Mandeep S. Dhillon was seeking an environment in which his tech-savvy four-year old could “play.”  Aimed at kids ten and under, the Togetherville social network was moderated by parents through their personal Facebook accounts.

On Togetherville, children were able to build a neighborhood of friends, approved of course by a parent, and were allowed access to games and art applications.  With all the familiar interaction of Facebook, children were allowed to exist within a safe online environment.

Having received a big boost with the Disney brand, the decision to shutter the social network came in four short sentences.  No rhyme or reason – just a number of referrals to other Disney branded properties:

Disney.com/Create – is a creative platform offering tools that enable children to develop original works of art, including digital paintings, video mashups, comic books, animated pets, and more.

Disney.com/Games – is a kid-friendly online destination with casual games featuring a number of favorite Disney characters.

Disney.com/Videos – is a family-friendly destination featuring original Disney web series, Disney music videos, and videos of favorite Disney characters.  

Club Penguin – is the number one virtual world for children with a reputation for providing fun for kids and peace of mind for parents.

Disney Family.com – is an online destination for mothers and families providing hundreds of crafts, recipes, advice, and family activities.

Attempts to reach Disney on the decision to shutter Togetherville were unsuccessful.

“I’m not happy about this one bit,” said six-year old Katherine of The Sagemont School in Weston and one of the first subscribers on Togetherville.  “Does that mean I can have my own Facebook page now?”

As Mickey Mouse would say, “see you real soon.”  As in the case of Togetherville – you left behind a lot of unhappy kids.  Previously worried about their MySpace accounts, instead their virtual neighborhood of friends at Togetherville is being scattered for all eternity. 

 

Life, death and social media


Many people live long after they’re gone through social media. There is no such thing as a digital death.

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and many other major social media sites have policies regarding the death of its users. Are you familiar with them?

While losing a family member, friend, colleague, classmate or connection is often painful, imagine the reminder of the dearly departed when they appear on your Facebook Timeline, Twitter Feed, MySpace Stream or LinkedIn profile. This is especially so when the deceased user is received as a “friend recommendation” through mutual friends.

From the digital age of sending a simple email or text message to an age of information overload where we publish our entire lives through timelines, tweets or status updates, many social media users tell all and provide all. From photographs and blog posts to complete personal histories, our entire lives have become an open book.

Will your Facebook friends or Twitter followers know when you die? With MySpace itself dying a slow death, will anyone miss you or notice you gone? As for LinkedIn, a few too many profile views should reveal your dearly departed status.

As a social media guru with over 76,000 contacts spread across six social media networks, one of them – Barry Epstein, of Boca Raton, Fla. – advised that he was closing the accounts of his recently deceased son. Aware of the “memorial” policies of Facebook, I was prompted to investigate the various social media policies of deceased users’ accounts and what can be done to preserve, memorialize or delete them following death.

“I believe social media is really useful for memorializing the deceased,” stated Epstein. “No matter what happens at the memorial service, people are using social media as a way to deal with their grief, but in a way that funerals don’t allow.”

With over 1.1 million social media users dying annually, family, friends, social media providers and the Internet are left to deal with a deceased user’s digital bits. When we die, who takes control of our social media networks?

“The interactions of a person through social media are a facet of a life and supply some tangible evidence about what they valued and who they chose to interact with while alive,” said Daniel Forrester, author of “Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization.” “While the person has died, their digital life already has been imprinted with their permission and thus it should continue on.”

Facebook

Although Facebook was not the first social media provider to establish a policy for its 800 million users worldwide, it was the highest profile because of the way it addressed the issue. Rather than allow a family member to take control of a deceased user’s account, Facebook instead decided to take things a step further and allowed them to be deleted or memorialized.

A memorialized Facebook account preserves the deceased user’s online identity so that only confirmed friends can visit their profile to read about them, view photos and leave posts of remembrance.

When Facebook converts an account into a memorial, the deceased user no longer pops up in Facebook’s friend suggestions, thus we are not constantly reminded of their disappearance. The person’s profile automatically becomes private to everyone but confirmed friends. Personal identifiers and contact information are also removed to prevent hacking and to respect privacy.

To establish a Facebook memorial, a family member or friend completes a special contact form providing proof of death. This can include an obituary, news article or Internet link. Unlike other social media networks, Facebook allows non-family members to perform this task, which is helpful in situations where the deceased user’s friends are more Internet-savvy than family.

Twitter

Just as Facebook allows users to request an account be deleted or memorialized when a family member or friend has passed away, Twitter allows for a permanent backup of the deceased user’s public tweets or a complete account deletion.

Profiles of deceased users will no longer appear in the “Who to Follow” suggestion box and previously scheduled tweets are not published. At present, the profiles of deceased users look exactly the same as those of living users and can be followed and listed.

To establish a permanent backup or to delete a deceased user’s Twitter account, a family member is required to submit the user name or profile page link along with proof of death in the form of a public obituary or news article. Twitter also advises, “Please note that we cannot allow access to the account or disclose other non-public information regarding the account.”

MySpace

As one of the oldest social networks, MySpace has a deceased user policy that is more of a standardized policy of deletion rather than memorializing like Facebook or Twitter. In addition, MySpace does not adequately address privacy concerns and is susceptible to hacking.

To delete a MySpace profile, a family member must contact MySpace via e-mail with proof of death and the user’s unique identification number. A username or profile link is generally not acceptable.

“Unfortunately, we can’t let you access, edit or delete any of the content or settings on the user’s profile yourself, but we’ll be sure to review and remove any content you find objectionable,” reads MySpace’s policy.

This policy is not particularly helpful for older relatives that are not Internet-savvy and makes it almost impossible to remove a deceased user’s existence from MySpace.

Strangely enough, hackers may attempt to access a deceased user’s account without authorization. Contained on MySpace’s policy page is an admission that anyone with access to the deceased user’s email account can simply “retrieve the password through the ‘forgot password link’ and make necessary changes.”

LinkedIn

Unlike the personal social networks of Facebook, Twitter and MySpace where a family member or friend must make a death notification, anyone can notify LinkedIn about the profile of a deceased member.

LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional business network with over 120 million members. According to LinkedIn, it will delete the profile of a deceased colleague, classmate or connection upon receipt of proof of death. There is no provision to memorialize the profile of a deceased LinkedIn user.

To delete the profile of a LinkedIn user, a “Verification of Death Form” must be submitted online, by fax to (402) 493-3548, or by mail to LinkedIn Corporation, 2029 Stierlin Ct., Mountain View, CA 94043. Proof of death in the form of a death certificate, obituary, news article or Internet link must be included.

LinkedIn is clear to point out that an email address registered to the deceased member’s account must be included. “Without this important piece of information, we will not be able to address your request.”

“You can argue that permanently archiving a digital life will allow some survivors to better reflect on the person and even discover new connections and insights that would have faded too quickly with only human memory,” concluded Forrester.

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