I've pondered this a lot actually, especially in the last year, i've had 3 "friends" "die on facebook".
There's a kind of cold, awkward and harsh realization that people you meet and interact with online, are indeed human and their flesh will cease to produce life one day and they will no longer exist to chat with you about random things or poke you on facebook. One guy in particular i met on gay.com 5 years ago and almost a year ago, i went to his page after a month of not hearing from him, or seeing him comment on posts on my wall and I saw a flood of condolence and miss you messages and sure enough, he had died a week prior.
I wondered what happened, as it seemed that through comments that his death was unexpected and violent and possibly suicide. I did not feel though, having never met him, only chatting with a lot through the years, virtual coffee buddies, that i should openly ask how he died. His parents and siblings would write on the wall and one person openly asked what happened, and the brother wrote "At this time we would like our privacy respected, it is not a 'facebook' conversation."
I made the right call. Instead, i found someone who was close to him and but not a family member.. a co-worker rather and sent them polite respectful note that in the most tactful way possible asked "How did he die?" and the co-worker wrote me back a nice letter.. with all details of his death and the funeral- how he looked in the casket and that he died in no pain.. and confirmed he did take his own life, went to his family home and shot himself- he had been having a rough month.
when i asked if there was anything i could do as basically a stranger to his surviving family members- the co-worker said.. You know he worked for this charity ________, you could donate in his memory." and i did that..and felt that was indeed the right balance.
2 other 'friends' on facebook died, with me finding out only when deciding to write on their walls..and then see a flood of "miss you" messages. The feeling is horrible.. it;s sad..and it also leads you to question the false nature of facebook and internet communication. You THINK you are close to someone, when you aren't... you find out they were depressed and lonely and killed themselves.. or had cancer and didn't tell anyone.. or a drug problems and overdosed.. yet the internet can only allow you to get as close as a screen and alpha numeric characters and some photos can. It's important to note, that you aren't really someones friend or know someone because you facebooked them and had a few Instant message chats and know what their favorite food is.
After that experience, i wondered if it would be "foul" or "tacky" for facebook to do a death notice for friends.. If a certain number of friends inside a close circle do indeed report a person as dead, could facebook send a tasteful little message that someone has passed on?
I fear the next time i go to someones page and find out they have been dead for almost a year! like one guy.