I am friends with my own dead pet on Facebook. First name Ben, last name Tait, Facebook shows the glorious golden retriever in question had three friends (me, my mum, and my dad) and apparently studied at Doğuş University in Turkey. The page was created by my brother during the heady days of the Noughties, when making a profile for your pet was second only to granting yourself a new name in inverted commas between your first and last.
The password long lost and the profile abandoned, it didn’t make sense to delete his social media account when Ben died in 2009. I couldn’t, of course, unfriend him, and nor can I unfriend an old friend’s dead schnauzer, although she died in 2012 (the dog, that is, not the friend). The schnauzer actually “posted” until her last night alive, writing in the first-person favoured by many pet accounts: “I fear tonight is my last.” I am officially buried in a pet cemetery.
Although you might not have realised, you probably have the same predicament – or will do soon. In 2011, the Telegraph reported that a whopping one in ten British pets had their own Facebook page, Twitter profile, or YouTube channel. The Noughties trend died out before many of the pets did, meaning most people didn’t or won’t update their pet profiles with the untimely news. You are probably blissfully unaware of the dead animals that surround you online.
Dead Facebook users have always fascinated people, as over 30 million people who used the site died within its first eight years. Some estimate that 10,000 of the social network’s billion users die every day, and that by 2065, the number of dead people on Facebook will outnumber the living. No one, it seems, however, has spared a thought for the pets.
Maths time. There are 8.5 million pet dogs in the UK, and 7.4 million pet cats. Assuming the Telegraph was right and 10 per cent of these had a social media profile in 2011, that’s 1,590,000 tech-savvy pets. The average life expectancy of a cat is 15 years, whereas dogs live between ten and 13 years. By 2025, then, Facebook will be home to at least one-and-a-half million dead British pets (imagine if we counted the goldfish).
In these circumstances, then, etiquette needs to be devised. Should you continue writing in your four-legged friend’s voice to announce their death? Should you delete their page? Should you unfriend their friends? Should you ask Facebook to allow their profile to become a memorial page, as they do for humans? Or should you – as seems to most commonly be the case – forget about the profile altogether?
Most people don’t know the answers to these questions. I speak with Rachael, a 29-year-old HR Assistant who recently created an Instagram account for her two-year-old Shih Tzu Rosie, and her four-month-old Bichon Frise, Jem.
“Oh, wow! That’s definitely not something I’ve thought about before!” she says when I ask her what she would do in these circumstances. “I guess if I didn’t have either of them anymore I wouldn’t keep the account going because it just wouldn’t feel right.
“I’d do a final announcement as me, I think, and then I’d probably keep it open until I was ready to close it down.”
It’s up to each individual, of course, whether or not they delete their pet’s profile, and there is obviously no right or wrong thing to do. Rumours in 2012 that some of the 83 million fake accounts Facebook was culling would be pet profiles led to a backlash, including one page with over 4,000 Likes: “Animal Lovers unite against FB, save our Pet Profiles”. It’s clear it’s not the social media giant’s place to meddle.
All dogs, of course, go to heaven, so none of this really matters in the end. It’s a strange and new phenomenon, sure, but it’s not necessarily a bad one. Your dog doesn’t stop being man’s best friend when they die, so maybe there’s no need for them to stop being your best Facebook friend either.