More than half of all Florida residents possess a Facebook, blog or other type of social media account. It’s where friends share photos, memories and sometimes, private information. But what happens when a user passes away?
Lawmakers and attorneys in at least two states are considering proposals that would make Facebook and other social network contents part of a decedent’s digital estate. The proposals would grant family members and loved ones access to the deceased’s personal, online records and accounts.
Proponents argue that digital images, letters and other content can be equated with mementos kept tucked away in shoe boxes or stored neatly in photo albums. However, unlike the components of a physical estate, there are no laws regulating their distribution.
Proposed bills would allow friends or relatives to take control of a decedent’s social media accounts. They would treat Facebook, Twitter and email as digital assets that could be shut down or used by an appointed representative.
Currently, when Facebook learns of a death, the site places the deceased’s account in a memorialized state. Certain information is removed and profile access is restricted to friends. The wall is maintained so that friends can compose posts in remembrance. Only “if prior consent is obtained from or decreed by the deceased or mandated by law,” will Facebook provide loved ones with account data.
For many grieving a death, such policies can be heartbreaking. They may downplay the emotional value of social media accounts, preventing loved ones from poring over favorite photos or re-reading memorable comments. And in some cases, restricted access can thwart practical efforts to notify friends and family of another’s passing.