Facebook rolls out features for users when they die

For years, it’s been a painful and difficult process to manage a loved one’s Facebook account after death.

As writer Julie Buntin wrote in a piece for the Atlantic last summer, losing a high school friend was difficult enough, but having her friend’s account in stasis after her death was like reliving her death over and over — through old messages and other profile features refreshed with site updates.

“It’s been five years since my best friend from high school passed away, but her death happens over and over online,” Buntin wrote. “Facebook has made her death a sort of high-concept horror movie. How many more times will I grieve her?”

Much of the problem with stories like Buntin’s is that, without a password, the profiles of the deceased were more or less doomed to stay up, almost as a painful reminder of a person’s life. Persistant familiy members could petition to have it taken down or request that the profile be frozen and locked as a memorial.

Now, with Facebook’s new legacy contact setting, control is back in the user’s hands. Legacy allows users to designate a Facebook executor, someone to take control of the account in the event of a user’s death. Users can also choose to have their account deleted after death.

While Facebook is tactfully choosing not to promote the new feature, users can access and designate a legacy contact under settings>security>legacy contact.

Slate’s Will Oremus applauded Facebook’s decision.

“It would be nice to see more tech companies follow its lead in thoughtfully addressing what happens to users’ data when they die,” Oremus wrote.

But not everyone is happy about Facebook’s new move. The Christian Science Monitor reported that many estate specialists advise caution.

“While I really don’t think this will become a major issue, there’s no accounting for what people may do,” attorney Anthony Handal told the Monitor. “However, if you’re not careful and you have one heir as the executor of your estate but put someone else in charge of your digital media it can cause conflict that nobody needs during the grieving process.”

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