Facebook has explained how it treats people's online identities after they die. The company acknowledged that different individuals and families can have differing opinions on what happens to their digital memories. It said it tries to "respect wishes."
Facebook recently opened up about its approach to digital death as part of its ongoing "Hard Questions" series. The company is attempting to appear more open and approachable by explaining how it tackles serious ethical issues. It's often faced with making decisions where there is no clear answer. Facebook's default response to the death of its users is to memoralise the account. This adds visual indicators that its holder is deceased, prevents future login attempts to the account and stops sending birthday alerts to friends of the user. None of the account's content is removed though, keeping it visible to its original audience. Facebook accepts nominated friends or family members as guardians of memorialised accounts. They can manage the profile as a memorial site, allowing them to pin posts, accept friend requests, change the profile picture and delete the account. It's also possible to download an archive of the user's entire Facebook data. You can nominate your legacy contact in your account's settings. Not everyone wants their account to remain visible after death. You can also tell Facebook to permanently delete your data when a next of kin informs the company you're deceased. Profiles may also be deleted at the request of a next of kin, if they can demonstrate the deceased would have preferred the account to be removed. READ NEXT: Digital payments now more popular than cash Facebook said it wants people to feel "comfort, not pain" when they visit its platform after losing somebody close. It tries to take action based on what close family members request. Sometimes, it’s faced with impossible decisions though, such as when one parent of a deceased child wants the account taken down but the other would prefer it to be memorialised. "These questions – how to weigh survivors' competing interests, determine the wishes of the deceased, and protect the privacy of third parties – have been some of the toughest we've confronted, and we still don't have all the answers," said Facebook. "Laws may provide clarity, but often they do not. In many countries, the legal framework for transferring assets to surviving family members does not account for digital assets like social media or email accounts. We are, however, doing our part to try and make these situations easier for everyone." Facebook said its most important priority is to respect the wishes of the deceased. It always protects the privacy of the account holder, keeping posts and messages marked as private inaccessible to anyone else. By refusing to allow access to these resources, it can best respect the deceased's wishes without having to ascertain their intentions for their account. While it may seem natural to let family members read recent conversations and other private content, Facebook noted that the deceased would expect the information within to stay private. It's supported in this regard by legal frameworks such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which prevent it from using family consent alone to disclose personal communications. The company acknowledged it may end up "disappointing people" but it always aims to do what the account holder would have wanted.