Facebook answers grieving dad's emotional plea

CNN
Sunday, February 9, 2014 - 10:00am

It was a desperate plea from a tearful dad, tossed like a message in a bottle into the vast sea of the Internet.

"You ever do something crazy because you just don't know what to do anymore? Well, that's what I'm doing right now," said John Berlin, staring into the camera with moist, red-rimmed eyes.

"I'm calling out to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook," he continued. "You've been putting out these new movies, these one-minute movies that everyone's been sharing. Well, my son passed away ... and we can't access his Facebook account. I've tried e-mailing, and different things, but it ain't working. All we want to do is see his movie.

"I know it's a shot in the dark, but I don't care," he said, his voice breaking. "I want to see my son's video. His name's Jesse Berlin. So please help me."

The Arnold, Missouri, man shot the emotionally raw, 84-second clip on his phone and posted it Wednesday morning to YouTube and Facebook. By late afternoon it had hundreds of thousands of views and he was deluged with Facebook messages.

Then, that night, Facebook called.

As Berlin listened, stunned, they told him would indeed make a personalized "A Look Back" video for Jesse, using posts he had made public on Facebook before his death in 2012 at age 21. Now Berlin is planning to share it online as a tribute to his late son.

"I just wanted a piece of him," he told CNN in a phone interview. "These (Facebook) videos really touched me. And every time Jesse would pop up (in one of them), I was choking back tears. I just wanted so desperately to see how his video would turn out."

Facebook created the customized videos for most of its active users Tuesday to celebrate its 10th anniversary. The 62-second clips note the year the user joined Facebook, then show a handful of their most-liked posts and a seemingly random selection of their photos -- all set to instrumental music.

A Facebook spokesperson said Berlin's video came to the attention of a staffer Wednesday, who shared it on an internal network.

"With the number of people using our service, it's often very difficult to act on behalf of one. But John's story and emotion moved us to take action -- so we did," the spokesperson said.

Facebook realizes that by granting Berlin's wish, they risk being deluged with similar requests from other users wanting to see video highlights of their deceased loved ones. Honoring all the requests would be difficult, but where do you draw the line? It's a thorny question.

The Facebook spokesperson would not address this issue directly. But he said Facebook, which introduced "memorial" pages for deceased users in 2009, wants to give users better ways to honor their loved ones on the site.

"This experience reinforced to us that there's more Facebook can do to help people celebrate and commemorate the lives of people they have lost," he said. "We'll have more to share in the coming weeks and months."

John Berlin said his son Jesse died of natural causes in his sleep on the morning of January 28, 2012. Doctors could not pinpoint the cause of death, although he was told a viral infection may have impacted Jesse's heart, he said.

Jesse Berlin was a musician and played rhythm guitar in Fivefold, a popular Missouri rock band.

"Jesse was all about having fun," his father said. "We'd always say our hobby was laughing. We would just cut up about everything."

He is also survived by his mother, Lisa, sister Nicole, 26, and brother Jared, 21.

John Berlin still can't believe his unassuming video appeal, which now has more than 1 million views and 4,300 comments, got Facebook's attention from a small town in the Midwest.

But he hopes that his story will inspire Facebook to help others like him and ease their access to the accounts of late loved ones.

"I'm glad that we're finding purpose in Jesse's death," he said. "I can't express how much this means to me." 

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