Digital life is still a new concept. Digital death is even newer. When it comes to dealing with what a person leaves behind online after he passes, there is no precedent. There is no will. We’ve been making it up as we go along, learning the hard way.
Like the parents of a Virginia teen who couldn’t get access to their son’s Facebook account after he committed suicide. Their struggle led to a new state law ensuring parents would be granted access after the death of a child.
To try to smooth out a difficult and thorny process of mourning and memorializing a person online while protecting his or her digital assets, Facebook introduced “legacy contacts” Thursday.
The company has a record of awkward post-death situations. In January, they had to apologize when the Year in Review feature showed one user photos of his dead daughter in a celebratory slideshow of the preceding year.
In its announcement of the new feature, Facebook wrote: “Until now, when someone passed away, we offered a basic memorialized account which was viewable, but could not be managed by anyone. By talking to people who have experienced loss, we realized there is more we can do to support those who are grieving and those who want a say in what happens to their account after death.”
Within their security settings, users can select a legacy contact who will be able to write a post to display at the top of their timeline, update the profile and cover photos, and accept new friend requests. Legacy contacts can’t delete anything from your page, but can have the entire account deleted.
“This is a baby step,” said CNET’s Bridget Carey. “Maybe in the future they’ll have more rights you can give to someone else.”
Google launched a similar feature in 2013. Its “Inactive Account Manager” tool applies to Gmail, Drive, Google+ and YouTube.