It’s like the ultimate prank, one that’s guaranteed to turn you into the most loathed contact this side of the social webs. Turns out, nearly anyone can freeze another’s Facebook page via “Memorialization.”
The feature is intended to hold Facebook profiles for deceased people, so that only directly connected family and friends can view or leave tributes or messages in memory of the departed. (By the end of 2012, there was some 3 million Facebook memorial pages on the network.) Of course since the accountholder is presumably dead, he or she won’t need access, so the company suspends the login, blocking administration of the page. In other words, what was intended to be a sensitive and respectful service has become a weapon for mischievous types looking to mess with other, very much alive Facebook users.
So what does it take to punk someone’s account? Well, I’m not illustrating it here, but suffice it to say it’s stupid simple: You can knock someone into the Facebook hereafter by just completing an online form and submitting an obituary link. That’s all there is to it.
When BuzzFeed editor Katie Notopoulos tested this, she easily lied about being an immediate family member to fellow editor John Herrman (to increase the chance of success). All she had to do was tick a radio button in a list. Notopoulos also discovered that Facebook happily accepted her obituary link — for a person who was 50 years older than the accountholder and had a name that was spelled a little differently. Next thing you know, the request was accepted and her colleague was blocked from his own Facebook profile.
To reinstate the account, the user has to fill out an online form. The wait for reactivation varies — this test subject only waited an hour, but others report delays of two days or more.
Time to revisit this process, Zuck&Co. Sure, it’s not kind to make grieving people jump through hoops to memorialize someone’s account. But it shouldn’t be so simple that anyone can send random Facebook users into limbo.
Has this ever happened to you? Tell us what happened in the comments, and let us know how long it took to recover your account.