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I recently learned from another user that one of our high-ranking users, Michael R. Chernick, passed away earlier this year (see obituary here). His profile page remains as he left it when he was alive, and some of that information is no longer accurate now that he is deceased (e.g., wanting to finish up some books he was writing). The profile also does not let users know that he has passed away.

In such cases, my own view is that it would be a nice idea if someone in the community could amend the profile page to remove information that is no longer relevant, and give some kind of commemoration and perhaps a link to the obituary. I understand that it is possible for site moderators to edit a user profile unilaterally, though it might bolster that request if we have first discussed the matter on CV.meta. I would like to solicit views from other community members on what is a good procedure for dealing with deceased accounts.

  1. Should deceased user profiles be amended to give a commemoration, or should we just leave the profile as it is?

  2. Assuming an amendment is desired, who should do this? Should it be part of the moderators' jobs? Should we just leave it up to whoever takes initiative to contact the moderators with a proposed amendment?

  3. How do we decide what to say in the amended profile? Should we solicit draft commemorations on a meta-post for each deceased user, or should we just leave this to the judgment and discretion of the person making the request to SE?

  4. Is there anything else by why of procedure that people would like in dealing with deceased accounts?

  5. Would anyone have any objection if I contact SE and request an amendment to Dr Chernick's profile page with a commemoration and link to his obituary (which I am happy to draft)?

Note: Some other SE sites have also asked similar questions about what to do for deceased accounts (see e.g., here, here, here and here). At an organisational level, SE have decided not to form a policy on this matter, since they are afraid it may cause other problems. I presume that it would still be okay for SV.SE users to develop our own approach to the matter through discussion on CV.meta.

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    $\begingroup$ Site mods can edit the profile, I believe. (I have never tried to do this, but there is a control for it.) $\endgroup$
    – whuber Mod
    Aug 30 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ @whuber: I did it once. It's straightforward. $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ @whuber: Thanks for letting me know that; I have updated the question to reflect this. $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Aug 30 at 22:35
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I think the safest thing to do when it is clear what has happened is to place a line at the top stating name and dates. Then place a note immediately below it stating that the profile has been left untouched. Editing the profile any further risks introducing misleading information. For instance if the profile says the user is working on a project we do not know for sure whether it was ever finished. I would also resist any attempt by interested parties to perform further edits.

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    $\begingroup$ (+1) I think this approach is prudent. Perhaps including a link to an obituary wouldn't be out of order. $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Scortchi-ReinstateMonica yes, good point especially if it is in a statistical source. $\endgroup$
    – mdewey
    Aug 30 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ magazine.amstat.org/blog/2021/03/01/… is an announcement in a standard statistical source. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Sep 1 at 9:11
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    $\begingroup$ Is it time now to do this edit, or have we not yet concluded? $\endgroup$ Sep 5 at 18:01
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    $\begingroup$ @kjetilbhalvorsen as I understand it only mods can implement this but opinion here seems clear (18 upvotes as I type and 0 down). $\endgroup$
    – mdewey
    Sep 7 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @mdewey: I have done some editing $\endgroup$ Sep 7 at 15:36
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I'll get the ball rolling with my own view on this matter. In the event that we can confirm the death of a user (particularly a user who has made a substantial contribution to the site), I am happy for another user to take the initiative and contact SE to seek an amendment to the user profile. (For anonymous accounts I think we should not do this, since we should respect the user's desire to remain anonymous, but for accounts where the user is easily identifiable, this would be a nice touch.) I think the amendment should be minor and non-controversial.

In regard to the wishes of the family/executor, I think it would probably be over-kill to try to contact them to solicit permission for an edit to the CV profile. This is a very minor issue that can be handled non-controversially by a well-meaning user or moderator. My view is therefore that the family/executor should not be contacted over the matter, though if they contact us and express a view (e.g., a preferred edit) then that wish should be respected.

In summary, I think the amendment should be minor, and should consist of the following:

  • At the top of the page, give the name and lifetime of the user (e.g., Michael Chernick 1947-2021) and then give a brief commemoration giving biographical information about the person, roughly in line with the information in their eulogy.

  • Keep the user's own self-description below this, but remove/amend parts that are no longer relevant/ accurate after their death.

  • I do not think it is necessary to contact the family/executor prior to performing an edit. However, in the unlikely case where the family/executor specifically requests a particular amendment, or opposes an amendment, their wishes should be respected.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it might be a good idea to seek consent of the family of the bereaved before any measures are taken, and without presuming that they will take a particular stance on the matter. $\endgroup$
    – microhaus
    Aug 30 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ @microhaus: I disagree; see my edit to the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Aug 30 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ Once a death has been made public it's entirely factual so far as we are concerned. So long as the edits don't go beyond bare facts of birth and death I can't see that there are any sensitivities here to be clarified. Newspapers and Wikipedia daily carry such information; I can't see that anyone on CV is obliged to clear publication with family or executors. So, I agree with Ben. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Sep 1 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ Transgender perspective here: families of origin—often those who's reportage is given the greatest weight around obituary time—are often hostile to aspects of the lived experience of the deceased. Gender issues aside (and I am not the only regular gender minority contributor on CV), a family's motivations in representing or misrepresenting a deceased individual's life (including through erasure) probably do not bear much on the public record of such a person's activity here on CV. I agree strongly with Ben's position. $\endgroup$
    – Alexis
    Oct 28 at 17:22
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I'd say profiles should just be left as is, unless the family reaches out and expresses a different desire. Because:

  • Simply put, Stack Exchange is not user focused. It's about Q&As. Outside of chat, it's pretty much all about the content.

    • Users can have profiles, but ultimately what they write there is their own choice (assuming it's within site guidelines). Stack Exchange shouldn't be editing that. If a user passes away, the family essentially takes over their account and it's up to them to edit it if they wish to do so. Of course if they don't actually have access to the account, then they can ask Stack Exchange to edit it on their behalf.

      Actually I'd also feel very weird about a user-focused site, e.g. Facebook, taking it upon themselves to edit someone's profile. In a much tighter-knit community where basically everyone knows each other quite well, it may be more appropriate though. Some Stack Exchange communities may get a bit closer to this than others, but even that probably doesn't get close to the level where it'd be appropriate in my opinion and you'll probably always have a whole lot of random users outside of whichever bubble you think you're in (making adding a personal note to a profile that doesn't belong to you a whole lot less appropriate).

    • I don't think a good case can be made for any user actually needing this information (considering that the site is about the content). You can't send private messages to users. The only place you could realistically expect a reply is by leaving a comment on their post. But users can and do already go offline for extended periods or permanently for a whole range of reasons, or they could simply miss or choose not to engage with replies to their older content.

  • It can bring unwanted attention to the family. If some random user sees this, and the contributions of the deceased user meant a lot to that user, they may try to reach out to the family to express their condolences. Some may appreciate this, for others it could bring back painful memories. That's not our choice to make for them.

  • The family may not appreciate an obituary note. Perhaps they simply want to browse the contributions the deceased user made without being reminded of the fact that they're deceased.

  • The family should ultimately be in control of any public obituary notices. Even if the information is already public, that doesn't mean it's appropriate for anyone else to publicise that elsewhere (perhaps outside of private communities where that person was well-known).

  • It may simply not align with the wishes of the deceased or the family. I personally would just prefer if this information weren't noted on any public profile of mine after my passing, and the only people who I'd say could override this preference is my family. I generally keep my private life private and I don't see why dying should change that.

  • Let's not even get started on the risk of adding such a note if an obituary turns out to be fake, premature or for someone who just shares the same name.

There is also How should a user's death be handled? on Meta SE, which contains similar thoughts.

  1. On a site like ours, it's not as necessary as it is on more social networks. ...
  2. Just being absolutely certain who's dead is harder than it sounds. ...
  3. Even when you can confirm death, the deceased's wishes can be hard to discern and honor. ...
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    $\begingroup$ This seems fastidious to a fault. All that anyone seems to be suggesting is that if (and only if) there is a public announcement of a death, then that information might helpfully copied to a user profile. Imagining that we need to identify and contact family and/or executors or to ascertain what the deceased would have wished seems exaggerated to me. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Sep 11 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ @NickCox I didn't say we should proactively reach out to the family. In fact, what I said clearly implies that we shouldn't do that: "profiles should just be left as is, unless the family reaches out". If there were a verifiable public announcement, all the points in my answer would still apply, except the last one (and even that one would actually arguably still apply, especially if we're going to make this a habit or policy). $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 11 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ So, you seem to be saying that we can't be certain what the family would wish and we should not ask them, so do nothing. It's a consistent position. I just think it's too fastidious. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Sep 11 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @NickCox The default position, that best aligns with Stack Exchange's views on user-focused content, is to do nothing. If we want to do something, there should be a convincing case for that, which I don't feel there is. There's also the risk of upsetting some, which should greatly bias us towards the default position (even if that risk isn't that great in absolute terms). This seems much less likely to upset people, and is much more justifiable if it does end up upsetting someone. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 11 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ The only arguments I see here in favour of editing the profile are that some information may no longer be accurate and to let users know, but both of those seem practically negligible. If someone hasn't logged in for a while, it's already obvious that that information is likely outdated (and it's not our place to edit that for someone else) and letting users know is largely irrelevant and inappropriate for the reasons given in my answer. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 11 at 19:21
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    $\begingroup$ @NickCox I'm not really sure how to interpret you saying this is too fastidious. I'd hypothesise you mean it's an overly detailed explanation of why we shouldn't do this, it's an overly analytical analysis and/or the risk of actually causing harm is too small. The first 2 would imply a thoughtless, poorly reasoned or careless approach would be preferred, which seems absurd (except, perhaps, again for the default position of doing nothing). Regarding the risk potentially being too small: the benefit seems even smaller (although I'd happily read an actual solid argument against that). $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 11 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ I see the idea of posting a notification of death as factual, informative and practical. That’s all. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Sep 11 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ Just a note that I have had occasion to reach out to people active on CV via email for interactions that are not a good fit within the site, and the profile has facilitated that kind of interaction a few times (not always, for example, folks conversing in Chat might exchange contact info). Others have reached out to me after encountering my activity on CV (my profile gives enough info for them to easily track me down). A factual, informative, and practical indication of death provides an indication that this kind of outreach is no longer possible. $\endgroup$
    – Alexis
    Oct 28 at 17:16

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