, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 363-379
Date: 26 Oct 2011

Ghosts in the Machine: Do the Dead Live on in Facebook?

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Abstract

Of the many ways in which identity is constructed and performed online, few are as strongly ‘anchored’ to existing offline relationships as in online social networks like Facebook and Myspace. These networks utilise profiles that extend our practical, psychological and even corporeal identity in ways that give them considerable phenomenal presence in the lives of spatially distant people. This raises interesting questions about the persistence of identity when these online profiles survive the deaths of the users behind them, via the practice of ‘memorialising’ social network profile pages. I situate these practices within a phenomenology of grief that accounts for the ways in which the dead can persist as moral patients, and show how online survival in this case illuminates an important difference between persons and selves within contemporary philosophy of personal identity. Ultimately, the online persistence of the dead helps bring into view a deep ontological contradiction implicit in our dealings with death: the dead both live on as objects of duty and yet completely cease to exist.