Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg Recalls Husband's Death: 'I Could Barely Get Through the Day'

The social media giant is rolling out new features to protect and preserve Facebook pages of the deceased

Photo: Courtesy Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook on Tuesday announced new security measures intended to protect profile pages after people die — and it’s a mission the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg says has a personal meaning to her.

Nearly four years ago, Sandberg’s husband, Survey Monkey CEO Dave Goldberg, died suddenly at just 47 years old, while exercising in the hotel gym during a getaway with his wife and friends in Mexico.

In the aftermath of the devastating loss, Sandberg says she relied on her friends — and Facebook — to keep the memory of her husband alive.

“When Dave died, I wanted to remember every detail, but in those early days, I could barely get through the day, let alone remember who told me what,” Sandberg, 49, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview, recalling the difficulty of putting together an organized tribute. “Facebook was so important, not just to my grieving, but also to my remembering. It was there when I wanted to go and look. It’s still important.”

The social media giant announced Tuesday that it will be rolling out new features to protect and preserve Facebook pages of the deceased.

They’ve launched a new section called Tributes, which will allow friends and family to share memories of a loved one, along with additional tools for “legacy contacts” a friend or family member appointed to maintain control over moderating the content. The subject’s existing profile will then remain untouched, and preserved.

“We want to respect the person’s account, what they had in their lifetime,” the Option B author explains. “But going forward, someone is moderating the tributes. This section gives people a new place to share memories.”

Alice Ely, Facebook’s product manager, says this idea was born out of observing consumer habits.

“We decided to build this after seeing people go to memorialize people, share memories, grieve with their communities,” she says. “Tributes just formalizes this process that’s already happening.” (Moderators must be appointed before someone’s death, in order to have control of the account.)

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And using artificial intelligence, the social media company can temporarily hide the profile of someone who has died but has not yet been formally memorialized.

“We know memorializing a profile is a personal choice made by loved ones and may take time,” Sandberg explains. “We will use this AI to avoid unexpected and painful experiences, like sending a birthday reminder to friends. We are working to get better and faster at this.”

Usa Allen and Company - Jul 2014
Sheryl Sandberg with late husband Dave Goldberg in 2014. Andrew Gombert/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

“This has been immensely personal to me. Facebook is a part of someone’s daily lives. But when you’re dealing with loss, it can be even more important,” Sandberg shares.

“It will be four years [since Dave’s death] on May 1. To this day if I do a post on Dave, I link to his page so people who were his friends can see it. When someone dies, it’s not just the family. I lost Dave, my kids lost Dave, the world lost Dave,” she says. “I want people to remember him.”

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