The Facebook “Hard Questions” blog recently addressed the issue of what should happen to people’s online identity when they die. https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2017/08/what-should-happen-to-online-identity/
This is a wonderful article expressing the emotional and practical issues surrounding one’s online postings after death and how, at least one company is grappling with solutions, while waiting for the law to catch up.
The Main Issue Is “What Would The Deceased Have Wanted?”
There are many instances where a spouse or a parent will want access to a deceased loved one’s page. It may help answer questions, serve as a memorial, or just bring comfort to a survivor. But, then we have to ask if that access was not given during their lifetime, is access now what the deceased would have wanted? There may be discussions with friends who are still alive and do not want their messages to become public. Handling these issues is tricky indeed.
Facebook Memorial Sites
Presently, when Facebook is notified that an account holder has died, its standard process is to add “Remembering” above the person’s name on their profile to make it clear that the account is now a memorial site. The account is left exactly as the person left it. Birthday reminders are stopped, and it tries to make it easy for family members to contact the company. Some may wish the page to be taken down.
Who Has Authority Over the Account?
Who has authority to direct Facebook on what to do with a deceased’s account? There is no clear legal answer. As a result, in 2015, Facebook created an option for people to choose a “legacy contact”. A legacy contact is a person chosen by an account holder before they die. This person will be able to manage or delete certain features on an account, such as changing a profile picture, accepting friend requests, or adding a pinned post to the top of a profile. But they can also elect to delete the account. The legacy contact will not, however, be able to log in as the deceased or see their private messages.
Facebook Still Developing Answers
Facebook, understandably, is still working on this issue, and it admits that it still encounters difficult situations where it ends up disappointing people. Every person’s story is different and one policy may not fit all. One solution is to let Facebook know what we want ahead of time.