When John Berlin scrolled through Facebook this week, he, like almost everyone else, saw auto-generated highlight videos of friends’ histories on the site.
He kept seeing the name and photo of one person who didn’t seem to have a highlight reel of his own: Berlin’s son, who died two years ago at age 21.
“I got to watch mine and my wife’s and my kids’, and Jesse’s picture would pop up in them,” Berlin said by phone Friday from the family home in Arnold, Mo. “I found myself looking at his friends’ videos next.”
But Berlin wanted Facebook’s take on Jesse’s own memorable moments.
“I’ll take any piece of him I can get,” Berlin said.
He didn’t know Jesse’s password, so he couldn’t set up what Facebook calls a “Look Back” video for Jesse. Set to resonant music, the 62-second videos were Facebook’s present to its users for the website’s 10th birthday. Users have to visit a special page to access and then share their own.
In a YouTube video posted Wednesday and seen by more than 2 million people, Berlin urged Facebook — and addressed Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg directly — to make a “Look Back” video for his son.
On Friday, Berlin received not only a video, but also a call from Zuckerberg.
“He said because of my video, they wanted to help me out and they wanted to help others out,” Berlin said.
In his video, Berlin pleads, “All we want to do is see his movie. That’s it.”
Earlier, Berlin had emailed Facebook with his request and received an auto-generated response. He then directed a tweet at Zuckerberg and received no reply. The video, he said, was a final shot in the dark. He recorded the 86 seconds of teary testimony in one take.
“I had nothing to lose — I just went for it,” said Berlin, a 46-year-old physical trainer.
Berlin finally got his wish Friday. He watched Jesse's Look Back video with his wife, their 25-year-old daughter, Nichole, and 21-year-old son, Jared. At 62 seconds, it was just like everybody's else, taking viewers through Jesse's antics, his excitement about a helicopter ride and photos of him playing guitar.
"From the bottom of my heart and everything that I am, I thank you, Facebook," Berlin said online.
Facebook said the video included only publicly available photos from Jesse’s account.
“With the number of people using our service, it's often very difficult to act on behalf of one,” Facebook said in a statement. "But John's story and emotion moved us to take action — so we did.”
Facebook said in a statement that the Berlins’ situation reminded the company it could do more to “celebrate and commemorate” the lives of deceased users. The company did not elaborate on future plans in that statement or to Berlin.
Facebook allows friends and family to report a deceased person's account and either ask for it to be preserved as a memorial or deleted. Other social media companies, including Google, allow account owners to designate someone who may take control of their accounts upon account inactivity.
Jesse Berlin, a rock guitarist, died in his sleep Jan. 28, 2012. The cause of death could not be definitively established, a Jefferson County Medical Examiner's office spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
John Berlin said his son had been sick earlier in the week and that a viral infection might have caused his heart to beat irregularly and then to suddenly stop. His final night, Jesse stayed in with his parents rather than hanging out with friends after band practice. He tested his brand-new guitar in front of his parents until 2 a.m., his father said.
Death had been on Jesse’s mind weeks before he fell ill. A friend of his was dying of Lou Gehrig's disease and the friend's deteriorating condition prompted Jesse to tell his parents that whenever he died, he wanted to be cremated and his ashes spread in the ocean.
Two weeks later, Jesse was dead.
Berlin is still waiting for the right time to send the ashes afloat.