Strathclyde Telegraph

Rake at the Gates of Hell

 

By Scott McNee

A dead guy popped up on my Facebook feed last week.

This isn’t the beginning of one of my usual spiels, a long-winded joke I came up with half-drunk. This one’s true, and I think it’s only funny if you squint.

You’ll all know the ‘People You May Know’ column on Facebook – an invasive, smug device showing you the faces of people you’d gone out of your way to avoid. I glanced over it, and saw the face of a boy my age, someone who’d died in an accident a while back. His Facebook profile didn’t know that of course. In his Facebook profile he’s grinning in a club, sleek and handsome. The picture hovered there, ‘Someone I May Know’, until I refreshed the page and he winked out of existence all over again.

I didn’t know him, and I’m not going to pretend I did. But I needed to write about it.

Moments like this are becoming more frequent for all of us. It was inevitable really, with everyone desperate to put their lives online. I don’t think many people care what happens to their own profile when they’re dead, but friends and relatives are a different matter.

“We will memorialize the Facebook account of a deceased person when we receive a valid request,” the site assures us. They add that they will attempt to remove the account appearing on the newsfeed in ‘ways that may be upsetting’.

This sort of soothing, meaningless PR language can’t disguise the naked ‘we will try’. Facebook are advertisers at heart. If your dead mum once ‘liked’ the company Big Bad John’s Big Bad Dildos for a drunken joke, well, Facebook are going to let you know that your mum likes Bid Bad John’s Big Bad Dildos, whether you like it or not. And you can complain, and they’ll certainly apologise, and they won’t do it again.

From that account.

We gave the Internet our lives, and took it for granted that we could find some privacy in death. It used to be the worst you’d get were tertiary characters infiltrating the dead’s life in retrospect. ‘Aye, we were best mates,’ said the deceased’s postman. That sort of thing. Now we can look forward to Mark Zuckerberg pimping out your uncle’s corpse to pay for another yacht.

I suspect this is how the relatives of dead celebrities have always felt. The Facebook/Twitter/Instagram impulse to collect followers is, after all, a miniscule emulation of celebrity. Perhaps this what some people wanted – a trace of yourself remaining, and all of the moments preserved selectively chosen before the end. If people like that exist, I’m not condemning them. We all want something to outlast us. But we sold ourselves to advertisers, and dead celebrities can’t retire.

Maybe they’ll take it to the logical extreme. Holograms of Tupac are performing his greatest hits to audiences of millions. Maybe one day we’ll get holograms of our grandparents, hawking used cars and looking sprightly for their 150 years.

So. This is my last column. The Year of the Bastard is over and your future looks just as bleak as when it began. We’re in another fucking war, the NUS are dragging their dirty arses on the carpet, John Lewis are whipping up another masturbatory Christmas advert, the Strathclyde Telegraph still has godawful cartoonists, Putin’s threatening god-knows-what and Facebook is bringing the dead back to life. A mixed bag of irritating and terrifying.

There’s nothing to be done. I’m beginning to come around to that opinion, to quote Beckett. I did intend, on occasion, to manufacture outrage or some other form of reaction. But I’ve realised over the course of the year that I barely care about these issues myself. I will never have the power to change any of this, and neither will you.

I’m not sure how the paper will go next year. I’m confident there will never again be such a stark contrast as there is between my column and Fiona’s, and that balance is probably all that’s been keeping my bile in the paper. Maybe you’ll get someone nicer.

I hope you don’t.

 

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