Social media is largely divided by generational categories, and Facebook, once a young college-age platform is now used predominantly by older adults. Parents, grandparents and great-grandparents use FB to keep in touch with far-flung family members and stay connected with their greater communities. However, as older adults inevitably die, it is predicted that there could be more deceased members active on Facebook than living. What happens to your digital legacy after you die? Have you made a plan?
According to research from the University of Oxford, at least 1.4 billion FB users will die before 2100 and the deceased could outnumber the living members by 2070. The tricky bit about this information is who will have access and control the data rights? Recently Facebook, acknowledging the growing number of deceased members, has implemented a feature that allows users to select a legacy contract to manage their page after death. Family or other loved-ones are able to curate the deceased user’s page, and most will alert visitors that the user has passed and the page is now a memorial.
But more often than not, social media profiles stay live after a loved one’s death and it can raise conflicting feelings for contacts who may see their deceased friend or family member’s active profile long after they have passed away. For people who don’t realize their contact has died, it can be even more upsetting.
Study co-author David Watson views Facebook’s legacy of data as an important collection of historically significant information about human culture and behavior and suggests that historians, archivists, archeologists and ethicists be invited to help curate the data left after users die.
The legacy option, while only available for North American Facebook users, is simple to implement. From your own FB page, click on the arrow tab to the far right of the screen and select “settings”. From here you can manage your account and modify your legacy contact settings or deactivate your account. Once a year you will get a reminder to check on your legacy contact to make sure they are still the correct person to manage your account, post tributes and curate your page. They won’t be able to post as you or see your messages. You can also request to have your account permanently deleted instead of selecting a legacy contact if you don’t want your Facebook account to continue after you die.
Read more about digital remains and online death by following this link to the original research article, “Are the dead taking over Facebook?” published in the journal Big Data and Society.