What happens to my Facebook Account when I die?
It is common knowledge that millions of Facebook users have died since setting up accounts. In fact 8 Million Facebook users died in the first eight years of the company’s existence. More than 400 users die every hour!
The sheer number of accounts involved have forced Facebook to take action and there are several options available:
- You can opt for your account to simply be deleted once you have passed away. You need to change your settings to choose this option and when you die your friends/ family will have to upload a copy of your death certificate to the website.
- You can opt for your account to be memorialised. The account is altered to note that you have passed away: it will say for example “Remembering John Smith”. Your friends will still be able to post to your wall and share memories and photos.
- You can choose a Legacy Contact – a sort of Executor for your account. You can nominate a trusted person who can access your account and post a final message to let people know you have passed away. The Legacy Contact can accept new friend requests, but cannot remove existing friends. They can also alter your profile and cover photos.
Interestingly only users over the age of 18 can appoint a Legacy Contact. As a general rule, only people over the age of 18 can appoint an Executor under their Will – so this makes sense and is broadly in line with existing UK law.
Facebook should be commended for the sensitive approach they have taken. They have clearly put some thought into this. Memorialised accounts are removed from “People You May Know” lists to avoid causing upset and distress to people in your broader social circle. Your account remains completely private but with the ability for your Legacy Contact to make slight alterations. Bearing in mind the type of photos posted on the site, often of drunk, silly adventures that were hilarious at the time, it is sensible for a Legacy Contact to be able to alter covering photos to something more tasteful.
However a Legacy Contact has very limited powers – they cannot log in to your account nor can they read your messages or change your posts. The fact that your private messages remain private is to be applauded. We don’t know at which point we are going to pass away and any number of incriminating or otherwise potentially upsetting messages may remain in your inbox. It would not be appropriate for a website to allow anyone else complete access to your account and Facebook’s policy achieves a sensible balance.
It is important for all websites to consider how all accounts of deceased users should be treated and put easy to use policies in place. Other forms of social media such as Twitter have a less sophisticated approach and simply close accounts on receipt of a death certificate.