Social media and digital technology have changed the way we live. They have also changed the way we die, or at least the way we grieve and memorialize.
At the end of life, we need to make choices about what remains online, for ourselves or for our loved ones. What happens, for example, to our Facebook accounts?
At the time of this writing, Facebook offers users essentially two options in the event of the death of an account holder. You or your executor or steward can choose to have your account permanently deleted, or you can appoint a legacy contact to look after your memorialized account.
You can find these options under the settings tab of your Facebook account.
A legacy contact, chosen by the account holder, ensures that your account can be managed once it’s memorialized, as it is not possible to add a legacy contact to an account once it’s been memorialized, which Facebook will do if officially notified of your death.
The differences between a memorialized account and your current profile are significant. The word remembering will appear next to your name. This is helpful to those who may not have been made aware of your passing.
The content you shared while living, such as photos and posts, remains visible to the audience it was shared with. The memorialized profile will not appear in ads or birthday reminders. This is useful as it can be upsetting to have the digital ghost of a dearly departed popping up unexpectedly in the newsfeed.
At the current time, your legacy contact can write a pinned post for your profile, such as a final message or obituary, unless your timeline and tagging settings don’t allow anyone other than you to post on your timeline.
The legacy contact can respond to new friend requests, and they can update your profile picture and cover photo. This contact can also request the removal of your account.
One important feature is that your legacy contact can download a copy of what you’ve shared on Facebook. If the intent is to eventually delete the account entirely, or remove the memorial page, the ability to download and save this content is a valuable feature, especially if you want these memories saved.
While the legacy contact has the kind of account management access listed above, there are several things the legacy contact can’t do. The person will not be able to remove or change past posts shared on your timeline.
In part, this is why it is important to be judicious about what you post while you are still living. The legacy contact also can’t read your messages, remove any of your friends, or make new friend requests, or add a new legacy contact to your account.
To learn the specifics of how to select a legacy contact or request the memorialization or removal of a Facebook account, visit Facebook Help. Remember that online accounts ultimately belong to the platform itself. Technology changes rapidly.