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Why Are Dead People Liking Stuff On Facebook?

By Simon Davies

We read a lot of stuff about Facebook dramas, but just occasionally one story leaps out and grabs you. In this case it’s a piece about the deceased coming to life.

This was surprising not only because Alex hated mega-corporations but even more so because Alex had passed away six months earlier.

An article on Readwrite alerts us to the spooky phenomenon of the dearly departed springing to life to endorse all manner of causes. Eerily, according to the piece, these “likes” sometimes don’t match the long-held beliefs of the deceased. So either they’ve had a chance to change their views in the afterlife, or there’s a security issue here that we should contemplate.

The article tells the story of a Facebook member, deceased for some months, who suddenly materialised with a radical change of philosophy:

“Last month, while wasting a few moments on Facebook, my pal Brendan O’Malley was surprised to see that his old friend Alex Gomez had “liked” Discover. This was surprising not only because Alex hated mega-corporations but even more so because Alex had passed away six months earlier.

The Facebook “like” is dated Nov. 1, which is strange since Alex “passed [away] around March 26 or March 27,” O’Malley told me. Worse, O’Malley says the like was “quite offensive” since his friend “hated corporate bullshit.”

The article helpfully provides screen shots.

When I contacted these people they swore they had never liked these brands, and they had no idea that this stuff was going out under their names.

Now in normal events I would put this down to a security issue and a one-off. However the author, Bernalrd Meisler, makes an interesting point. He presents a strong case that there’s something at a more structural level occurring.

“Not long ago I asked people to send me screenshots of weird or suspicious behavior. I did this after noticing some bizarre things happening on Facebook —such as friends of mine showing up as “liking” things that I know they don’t like, such as liberals “liking” Mitt Romney and a guy with no car who “liked” Subaru.

When I contacted these people they swore they had never liked these brands, and they had no idea that this stuff was going out under their names.”

Meisler continued:

“Then I heard about Facebook’s latest idea, getting users to pay to “promote” our own posts, so that more people would see them.

Many people find promoted posts egregious, and the blowback has been well documented. A site called Dangerous Minds called promoted posts “the biggest bait and switch in history.” Mark Cuban complained in an article on The Huffington Post and made the same case here on ReadWrite.”

The bigger picture, argues Meisler, is that Facebook’s integrity – and that of its users – is at stake:

“This might be funny except that it’s also kind of disturbing. I mean, isn’t the enormous market valuation of Facebook predicated on its vast store of information about users, and its ability to use that information to precisely target ads?

If Facebook can’t get this under control, what does that say about the value of its data? The persistence of these fake likes is an unnerving thing for Facebook users and investors alike.”

I won’t continue to quote from this excellent piece here, but I do recommend that you read it. I’ve sent an email to Facebook execs asking for a clarification and will post it below if one is received.