Starting today, Facebook users from the United States have received a new feature for their accounts: remaining in the online world even after they passed away through something called a “legacy contact”. However intriguing this new option might be, experts urge users to give it a long thought before choosing who will be the contact to represent them post-mortem.
The freshly launched feature will allow US users to write a sort of digital will. They can choose between two options of what will happen with their account after they pass away: it can be deleted or, they can appoint a “legacy contact” by accessing the website’s security page.
The task of the designated legacy contact is simple: they must log on their own Facebook account, provide a name and a death date, and also a link to the obituary of the deceased. After a thorough verification of the data, the specified account will officially become “memorialized”. What does that mean? It means that the deceased’s profile will show the word “remembering” next to their name.
There are specific things that the legacy contact can or cannot access after the data has been verified. For example, their access is restricted from private messages and chats. On the other hand, they will be allowed to accept new friend requests, post announcements and change the profile picture, all this after Facebook has processed the so-called “memorialization request”.
In your will, Facebook lets you decide whether you want to let your legacy contact download all the data you ever posted on Facebook, such as pictures, statuses, posts and any other information you shared during your life. This also means that anything that you might not have previously published in a public manner, also falls under the control and responsibility of the legacy contact. In this category we count photos, any kind of artwork or writings you added on Facebook, but did not make public.
Anthony Handal, who owns a company specializing in digital rights and intellectual property, advises us to take into serious consideration who will be in charge of our digital accounts after we pass away. It is even more important to make a wise choice if you are part of any domain which involves art, writing, photography, film or music in any way. Mr. Handal suggests that you choose the same person to be in charge of both your estate and your digital legacy.
His advice comes in handy, because we cannot predict how people will react. For example, if you are not careful and you put two different people in charge of administering your estate and of your digital media, the resulting conflict is not something people would want to deal with during the grieving process.
Interestingly enough, in 2013, the Pew Research Center has already thought about and asked about what happens with the social media accounts after the user dies. The question is quite important, considering that the average internet user has 25 online accounts, starting with email to all sorts of social media profiles and ending with important bank accounts. This information is provided by Microsoft in a study from 2007.
And because the digital era is rather new, and there is a lot of uncharted territory, the sorting out of who gets access to online property after someone dies is just at the beginning. However, companies, legislator and, most importantly, families are getting together to find the best solution. In this regard, Facebook has decided that, as its users age, it is only fair that they should get the chance to choose how to deal with potential issues.
An unchanged percentage of online adults use Facebook (71%), according to a Pew study released this January, a number which hasn’t altered since August 2013. However, the number of seniors adhering to the platform continues to increase, comprising more than a half of users whose age is 65 and over.
Michelle Parker, an estate planning attorney from Virginia, believes that Facebook might have opened a can of worms with their new feature, because a lot of people might believe that giving out control over their Facebook account equals to legal ownership. The reality is that the law doesn’t know yet how to handle the potential transfer of intellectual property rights. Before today, Facebook offered only the option of freezing accounts of the deceased.
The problem of social media control after someone has passed away started gaining momentum in Virginia in 2013. After the suicide of a 15-year-old, their parents realized they did not have access to his Facebook account, so they started looking for answers to their situation. Consequently, Virginia counts among the first states which started passing laws concerning the digital accounts of the deceased. For example, there is a website called EverPlans which provides information on digital estate planning laws according to the state you’re searching for.
Image Source: Mashable