Your Facebook Account Doesn’t Have to Die with You

In a 2014 estimate, there were almost 1.4 billion Facebook users in the world, with 890 million of these users spending an average of 21 minutes per day on Facebook. Even senior citizens, traditionally a demographic slow to adopting online technology, are seeing the value of creating a virtual life on social media. In fact, a recent report found that the fastest growing social media demographic is persons 50 years and older. Among all of these users, an estimated 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared daily.

Have you ever wondered what happens to your Facebook account–and all that uploaded content–after you die? Fortunately, recent changes to Facebook’s policy has made death a little less scary.

It has been said that “old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” Similarly, to fully appreciate Facebook’s new policy, it is worth discussing the alternatives. Consider the widely publicized saga of the Ellsworths family following the death of their son, Lance Corporal Justin Ellsworth. Justin, a Marine, died in combat in 2004 while serving in Iraq. After his death, the Ellsworth family wanted to make a memorial of his life by using the e-mails Justin had sent and received while deployed overseas. Yahoo!, the e-mail service provider, denied all requests by the Ellsworth family, citing that it was against their terms-of-service. It was only after a lengthy and costly court battle that Yahoo! gave the family access to Justin’s emails.

Even Facebook’s policy used to be onerous for heirs. In 2012, a family sued Facebook to compel Facebook to give them access to their son’s account. Their son had unexpectedly committed suicide, leaving no note or rationale for the coping family, and the family sought access to help solve the mystery. Even though the family won the lawsuit, Facebook refused to provide the access for some time afterwards.

All of that changed in February of this year (at least for Facebook users). Facebook’s new “Legacy Feature” allows account holders to designate a friend to have certain access after the user passes away. For instance, the legacy contact will be able to pin a post on the decedent’s timeline after death (such as a funeral announcement), respond to new friend requests, or update cover and profile photos. Additionally, users can elect whether they want their legacy contact to be able to download pictures, posts, and videos from their account. And lest you worry about those embarrassing messages with your ex—the legacy contact won’t be able to log in as you or read any private messages.

Alternatively, through this feature, you can tell Facebook to permanently delete your account after death.

Here’s how to designate your legacy contact:

  • From your Facebook profile, click on “Security”
  • Choose “Legacy Contact” at the bottom
  • Enter the name of a Facebook friend as your legacy contact. (Note: an email will be sent to the friend alerting them of their new status)

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