The Afterlife in Social Networking

Posted by Kathleen Smith

Every month I have the honor of presenting How to Use the Internet and Social Media in Your Job Search, to a group of very dedicated government professionals who are transitioning. While we present this class to many groups each month, this group is the most challenging due to their resistance to being on the internet, let alone using social media. And they have good reason to be.

Though I was invited to present the class over three years ago, have been thoroughly vetted and have had my presentation cleared a number of times, I still put on my virtual flak jacket when I walk into the class. I provide a variety of disclaimers as to the material and how it is to be used. I love teaching the class as it is challenging and rewarding each time.  

But I wasn’t prepared for the reaction I had in a recent class. I came to the slide that presented LinkedIn groups and the group that was set up specifically for the class participants. Shock, dismay and sadness – not quite the reaction I had expected.  I continued with my presentation, answered some extremely complicated issues concerning identity protection and social media, and concluded the presentation.

As with any class, there are lots of questions afterwards and I stayed behind to answer them. A very nice lady came up and said there is a problem with one of your slides. She pointed to the LinkedIn slide on the handout that listed the group and names of some of the participants in the group as you see on any LinkedIn group home page. She said this person died. The individual had worked for decades with everyone in the class. Having just gotten over the shock of losing this person, some callous instructor puts their name right in front of them during a class. I was mortified. I had just spent over an hour convincing these individuals that being part of social media is the logical next step for them, and then they see a deceased colleague’s name on a LinkedIn group home page.

Unfortunately, this is the reality that we all now face. We have both offline and online presences. But whose responsibility is it to take down a person’s online profile? As with anything, it takes a community. Many parents and spouses are not prepared for handling the details when a loved one passes away. There are many legal, financial, physical and emotional tasks and now they have one more – the digital life of this person.  

When a colleague passed away in our community, many of us were shocked when his profile kept being “recommended” or would show up in a search. This young professional’s family was devastated by losing their family member and none of us wanted to burden the family with letting them know there was one more thing they had to think about. A group of us compiled the necessary public notices and filled out the form to submit to LinkedIn. It took about a month but the profile was taken down. Many of the employees of the deceased’s company thought that the company should have done this, not from a policy standpoint, but from a community standpoint. We can debate from a legal and moral standpoint as to who, how and when to take a person’s online profile down, but it is a community’s responsibility to support its members and their families during good times and bad.

If you need to support someone who has to deal with an individual’s online person when they have passed away, here are some resources to utilize:






This entry was posted on Monday, April 25, 2011 12:00 pm

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