Our Facebook accounts are outliving us – what happens to Facebook after death?

There are currently an estimated 30 million Facebook accounts that belong to people who have passed away, raising the unnerving question: what happens to those abandoned profiles after death?

For many people, grieving through social media can be a very comforting experience – allowing them to connect with friends and gain support, without having to painfully endure a face-to-face interaction. Since 2009, Facebook have offered family members the opportunity to memorialise an account, allowing family and friends the chance to post condolences, and share past memories with other grieving Facebook members.

For others however, the world of social can be considered a painful and constant reminder of what has been taken away from them. The experience of revisiting and reliving the past by scrolling through Facebook Timeline can be too difficult to bear. In cases like this, it is possible to start a petition and have the Facebook profile deactivated, removing all traces of the accounts existence.

Despite the options available, the one thing that Facebook is unable to offer grieving families is the login details to their loved one’s account. Facebook’s strict privacy policy prevents them from revealing this kind of information to anyone other than the account holder. Is Facebook therefore letting some family members down?

I recently read an article about a young teenage boy who had committed suicide, leaving his family devastated, and his parents desperately seeking answers. Since their son had changed his Facebook password in the days before his untimely death, it was clear that access to his Facebook account could give the family insight into what drove him to commit such an act of desperation.

After a long legal battle it took this family over a year to be granted limited access to their son’s account. Note carefully the word limited. In such extenuating circumstances, is it fair to conclude that this privacy policy is simply unethical and somewhat heartless? Is it time for this legislation to be revisited?

Image courtesy of Marcopako, facebook logo, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

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