Of all the modern existential questions to ask, “Where does my social media go when I die?” is the one being legislated right now. While lingering Facebook walls of the dead can become memorials, shrines of love, they can also be a canvas for the hate of bullies who refuse to let their victims rest in peace as family members lack the passcodes to stop them.
It makes me wonder why Facebook can’t just be reasonable and allow family to send proof of death to the server to have a loved one’s page shut down and allow friends to migrate to posthumous walls as a separate entity - call it Facebook A.D. (After Death) which would be posted and controlled by family or heir. When my nine-year-old saw what I was writing about today he shrugged and said, “Well, that just means you have to leave someone all your passwords in your will right? Like money or a house?”
When someone dies, Facebook walls become the memorial. In the case of Norfolk businessman and philanthropist Peter Decker, who died one year ago on Feb. 4th 2012, his wall is alive and well and still adding friends. It’s a beautiful tribute. But I still felt broadsided each time getting his birthday reminder and, worse, when Facebook’s algorithm reminds me I haven’t been in touch with Pete in a while and should check-in and see how he’s doing.
All this is up for discussion today because in Concorde, N.H lawmakers are pondering a study of whether control of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts should go to the families left behind after the user's death. The Associated Press reports, State Rep. Peter Sullivan is sponsoring a bill that would give control over social media accounts to the executor of a deceased person's estate.
Mr. Sullivan told the AP he filed the bill after learning of a bullying case in Canada that led to a teenager's suicide wherein those who bullied the teen posted on her Facebook account afterward. Sullivan’s bill would let family "step into the shoes of the deceased" and control posts. “The presumption would be that the family's rights trumped those of the service provider,” he said.
When it comes to social media, it is a legacy, sometimes a bad one. Many may value the privacy of their messages, tweets, and images beyond that of more tangible assets because feelings and relationships are often involved. Even after death some of us would prefer our families not be privy to our chat logs and personal message threads, and so the battle for cyberspace A.D. heats up.
There are alternatives already available including Entrustet, a free service that enables an account holder to pass on digital assets to up to 10 designated heirs and one executor, who is in charge of executing a person's digital wishes after they pass away. Digital assets include social networks, financial accounts, blogs, e-mails and other Internet properties or files. For other online solutions see http://mashable.com/2010/10/11/social-media-after-death/
Still, as a parent, I would certainly hope the family’s rights to stop bullies would trump those of a service provider and if they don’t currently they certainly should. I have always insisted my sons who are under 18 put all their passwords in a family book I keep. And while it chafes them, it has also saved them when they forgot the codes.
However, as a wife I’m a little guarded about what I may have let slip after a spat when chatting on Facebook with my best friend. If I pass on, do I really want that to be the last thing my husband sees if he goes looking through my accounts for happy memories? It’s tricky out there in the virtual world.
I wish the Facebook App Exfoliate program that routinely scrubs your wall free of all previous posts, photos, and chats were still available.
Five states – Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma and Rhode Island – have laws addressing some of the concerns. According to AP, the Connecticut and Rhode Island laws address only e-mail accounts while Idaho, Indiana, and Oklahoma include micro-blogging, short message service, and social networking accounts.
So here I sit pondering the ins and outs of creating something I would not do for my body, but would consider for my intellectual property health: Does my Twitter account require an Advanced Health Care Directive (AHCD) and a living will for all my social media? The ACHD in the event that I go ga-ga (and not in in a Bad Romance kind of way) and need someone with power of attorney to stay my hands from the keyboard before I libel the free world and the other would just shut the accounts down for good and all.
I’m more likely to invest in a virtual lockbox for my passcodes and leave it to my kids as I myself take the time to erase any threads of shame or better yet, avoid creating them.
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