What happens to your Facebook page after you die has been a point of emotional debate ever since the site's earliest days. It's not something one usually thinks about—until somebody you know dies, and suddenly their account is just sitting there, as if nothing has changed.
Today the site announced a new feature to try to alleviate some of the stress and confusion of navigating this territory. Facebook now has a security feature that lets users select a "legacy contact," sort of like an executor of a will, but for your selfies. After you die, your legacy contact has the ability to notify Facebook of your death and gain limited access to your account.
According to the announcement, your legacy contact will be able to write a single "memorial post" at the top of your timeline, approve friend requests on your behalf, and update your profile picture and cover photo. You can tweak the settings to allow your legacy contact to download an archive of your photos and posts, but they won't have access to your private messages. You can also set the account to automatically delete once Facebook is notified of your death.
Without a clear policy or easy option for loved ones to change or removed a deceased person's page (unless they had shared their password with someone, which in itself could lead to disagreements), Facebook profiles generally just remained live after the person had died. Families took the social media site to court to gain access to loved one's accounts. When, who, and why someone else should have access to your online presence is a shitty, uncertain territory filled with a lot of people already dealing with the uncertainty of grief.
There quickly grew a virtual graveyard of ghostly inactive profiles frozen in time, where people would post memories and share their grief.
It wasn't always the best way to remember a person, but for a long time it was the only option. In 2009, Facebook introduced the option for "memorial pages," where you could notify Facebook of a friend's death (with optional "proof") and their profile would have a small "remembering" label added, but no one would be able to access or change the account.
"By talking to people who have experienced loss, we realized there is more we can do to support those who are grieving and those who want a say in what happens to their account after death," the team wrote in the announcement.
It may seem a bit morbid, but the reality is that so much of our lives are now documented online, it only makes sense to have some security about what happens to it when our lives are over.