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Facebook Working on Filtering Out Virtual Ghosts

One of the positive aspects about social networking is that users can find old high-school and college buddies. They can keep real-time tabs on family members while communicating with potential employees or customers.

However one of the negative aspects--especially for Facebook users--is that deceased friends and relatives still circulate the network. That could be disturbing when Facebook suggests users to network with its virtual ghosts.

"It kind of freaked me out a bit," said Courtney Purvin. Recently the site suggested that she get back in touch with an old family friend who played piano at her wedding four years ago.

The family friend died back in April 2010.

"It was like he was coming back from the dead," she said.

Although the Facebook database can keep track of its 500 million plus members' birthdays, anniversaries, and friends that haven't been contacted in a while, the site is still having a problem determining when one of the users passes on.

Facebook has acknowledged the "ghosts in the machine," however the company also admitted that the process of automating the task of identifying deceased users remains to be a problem. Currently Facebook has not found a good solution to rectify the situation.

“It’s a very sensitive topic,” said Facebook company spokeswoman Meredith Chin. "And, of course, seeing deceased friends pop up can be painful. And people passing away every day (given the site's overall size), we’re never going to be perfect at catching it."

Currently Facebook does have a way to "memorialize" pages of deceased users, allowing friends and family to pay homage--these pages are removed from search results and pulled out of the "suggested friend" algorithm. The problem is that many users aren't marked as deceased, and Facebook doesn't know how to automatically determine "death."

It's suggested that Facebook implement a tool that allows users to report a death when the deceased appears. Chin also said that Facebook may use software to scan pages for phrases like "rest in peace" or "I miss you"--a Facebook employee would then be dispatched to investigate upon discovery.

“We are testing ways to implement software to address this,” she said. “But we can’t get it wrong. We have to do it correctly.”