What happens to your Facebook when you die?

Tina Haapala |

Written by Tina Haapala

(Note:  I was happily busy, but needed an article this week, so I asked Tina Haapala, the person in my office who usually edits this column, to share a few thoughts about something I found interesting. Thanks, Tina.)

If you’ve been on Facebook for a while, you may have had the possibly unnerving experience of seeing the bright smiling face of a friend or acquaintance who’s died show up on your newsfeed. Out here ‘in real life’ (you know, IRL), there are plenty of loose ends money and estate professionals try to help clean up prior to a client’s death: making sure there’s enough money for them to live out their remaining days well; the tools to pass on what’s remaining to others; and reminders about the documents needed to make that happen. That’s great for IRL, but what about your virtual-life?

For years, Facebook has been struggling with what to do with the profiles of people who have passed. Their own rules state that you should never share your password, so if you didn’t share with someone, nobody has the ability to jot a few lines on your behalf. You know, so your far-away friends know why you are suddenly not responding to their Candy Crush requests. In the past, Facebook offered to keep a profile open and viewable but no changes could be made.  Since so many people continue to use Facebook as part of their day-to-day lives, and even business lives, Facebook realized that something else needed to be done.

The current fix: Facebook Legacy Contact. When you are in Facebook, go to your settings and choose security. At the bottom of the list is your Legacy Contact. Here you can choose a family member or close friend (also on Facebook) to post on your profile once you’ve passed and your page turns into a “Remembering” page.  Your legacy contact can then post a notice on your profile, change your picture and respond to new friend requests. You also have the option to allow this person to download the pictures, posts and videos you posted.

The photo option seems especially poignant. In this increasingly digital age, pictures saved in an online setting are becoming our new photo albums. Anything placed on our Facebook timelines now offers a kind of history of our lives—at least what you’ve taken the time to share. You may have over shared at times. (You know this happens.) Because of this or other reasons, you may want your digital Facebook life to die with you. Thankfully, you can choose that as well; you can erase your Facebook legacy while keeping your actual legacy intact.

After all, out here IRL (in real life, in case you forgot), who you are still means more than how many “likes” you received. Interacting with real flesh and blood people is what matters. Facebook has allowed us a way to share those interactions, sure, and it’s nice that we have a way to preserve those memories through a loved one. Just make sure, while you’re still here, to step away from the screens and make as many great memories as you can, whether you want them shared online later or not.

This article was published in the Wichita Falls Times Record News on May 8, 2016.