Facebook has said it is working on using artificial intelligence to prevent a common and upsetting problem: receiving notifications about deceased friends and loved ones.
The company said it hoped to stop the “painful” experience of getting suggestions to invite dead people to events, or to wish them a happy birthday. On profiles, tributes to a person will now appear separately, keeping the deceased’s timeline as they left it.
“We hope Facebook remains a place where the memory and spirit of our loved ones can be celebrated and live on,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer.
Users have often complained about being shocked and upset when Facebook nudges them to interact with a deceased loved one.
Since 2009, Facebook has given users the ability to “memorialise” profiles; a status which adds “Remembering” to the person’s name and allows friends to post messages (more than 30 million people do this every month, Facebook said).
Once a page has been memorialised, it no longer appears within notifications as if that person were still alive. But, for profiles of deceased users that have not yet been memorialised, Facebook said it would use AI to stop those accounts from appearing in unexpected places as well.
Facebook also announced other tweaks to how dead people are represented on the network.
Memorialised accounts will now have a separate “tributes” tab for people to leave condolences and memories, a move that would leave the deceased’s timeline intact.
Content posted as tributes can be moderated by a person’s “legacy” contacts. These are other Facebook users who they have designated as a trusted person or persons, who can take over in the event of their death.
“Legacy contacts can now moderate the posts shared to the new tributes section by changing tagging settings, removing tags and editing who can post and see posts,” Ms Sandberg explained.
“This helps them manage content that might be hard for friends and family to see if they’re not ready.”
Under-18s cannot nominate a legacy contact, but parents or guardians of children who have died can contact Facebook to request access.
Some of these changes have come in response to abuses of its systems, such as a “prank” in which users would falsely tell Facebook someone had died, locking that user out of their account, and causing friends distress.