For a Brisbane family who lost a loved one in a motorbike accident, his Facebook profile was an important link to the man they loved – until it was deleted.
Family members are heartbroken and experts say it highlights the growing importance of being prepared for “digital death”.
The social media giant pulled down Banyo father-of-six Daniel Cook’s profile after he died, something it says can be done after a request from “verified immediate family members”.
Fiona Wrigley, the mother of Mr Cook’s two eldest children, said Abby, 17, and Curtis, 14, were devastated when they found they could no longer access certain memories of their father, including photos that had never been downloaded.
“It’s just another link that they have to him, where they can go and see all the memories they’ve made with him and posts that he felt it was important to share and just a reminder of who he was,” she said.
She started an online petition calling for the page to be brought back and “memorialised”, a process Facebook offers to keep a dead person’s account available friends but otherwise frozen.
Mr Cook’s partner of 10 years Morgan St John is also behind the push, saying it was heartbreaking to see the memories disappear.
“I was angry, devastated obviously, that it could be just done so easily, without any consultation to the immediate family,” she said.
“…My kids are all under six so later on that would have been nice for them to look through when they’re older and that’s not an option anymore.”
As well as bringing the page back, the petition calls for Facebook to review its policy so it must consult more with immediate family before deleting an account.
The concept of “digital death”
Social media experts Dr David Glance and Dr Tama Leaver, who have both written about the topic previously, said the issue highlighted the growing importance of “digital estate planning”.
Google offers users the option to delegate a family member who will look after their account if they die.
Facebook recently released a similar option but only in the US.
University of Western Australia Centre for Software Practice director Dr Glance said the features needed to be embraced by more technology companies.
Curtin University senior lecturer in internet studies Dr Leaver said what to do with a dead person’s social media accounts was a tricky area filled with shades of grey.
“There’s a lot of complications there about who should have the right to review things,” he said.
“And I think in an ideal world, yes you would have multiple people consulted, but I doubt given the automated nature of a platform like Facebook… I doubt very much you’ll get anything more complicated then you’ve currently got.”
He said “digital estate planning” was just as important as writing a will, if not more so because there was generally no default for what happened to your Facebook or Twitter after you died.
Facebook has been contacted for comment.