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Will Facebook delete this history lesson?

Librarian Donnelyn Curtis wanted to use the social network to engage students, but she may have violated Facebook's terms of service in the process. 


Lauren Rae Orsini


Posted on Jan 10, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 10:53 pm CDT

One librarian’s well-intentioned history lesson may soon clash with Facebook’s terms of service.

Donnelyn Curtis, the director of research collections and services at the University of Nevada at Reno, created Facebook profiles for two alumni who graduated from the school in 1915: Joe McDonald, a mechanical engineering major who enjoys boxing, and his girlfriend Leola Lewis, a sophomore who enjoys embroidery.

“We’re just trying to help history come alive a little bit for students,” Curtis told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In that, she has succeeded: More than 1,866 people have friended each profile for updates on Joe and Leola’s day-to-day college life at the turn of the century. However, while it may seem innocuous to read two deceased persons’ updates about dinner (oxtail soup) and world events (a smallpox epidemic), it’s a practice against Facebook policy.

“It’s against our terms of service to create… a Profile on behalf of a person who is not living,” a Facebook spokesperson told us in an email.

In Facebook’s terms of service, the platform allows users to create memorial profile pages for deceased persons, but those persons should already have had profiles while they were living:

“When a user passes away, we memorialize their account to protect their privacy,” it reads.

The spokesperson had an alternative for Curtis.

“Instead, we encourage people to create a Page in order to establish a presence on Facebook for a non-living person,” she said.

However, it’s unlikely that anyone will report Curtis for using Joe and Leola’s information on a Facebook profile. Since Curtis told the Chronicle that Joe McDonald’s granddaughter gave her permission to use this information on Facebook, she probably won’t be reported for having an impostor profile. Instead, she’s gotten nothing but praise from users.

“Thank you for the add. It’s a fascinating look into the lives of ordinary people,” wrote John Michaelson.

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*First Published: Jan 10, 2012, 12:46 pm CST