Facebook After Death: Who Owns Your Pages When You Die?
Most people can’t live without Facebook — but what happens to your Facebook page when you are no longer living? New Hampshire and other states are trying to figure that out.
State Rep. Peter Sullivan has introduced legislation to allow the executor of an estate control over the social networking pages of the dead. Last week, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 222-128 to give Sullivan more time to write an amendment that begins a study of the issue.
The bill proposed by Sullivan, a Democrat from Manchester, would allow control of someone’s Facebook, Twitter, and other accounts such as Gmail to be passed to the executor of their estate after death.
According to Sullivan, passage of his bill would bridge a gap in policies of social media sites regarding posthumous users. He said his bill would protect residents who have suffered loss.
“This would give the families a sense of closure, a sense of peace. It would help prevent this form of bullying that continues even after someone dies and nobody is really harmed by it.”
In an interview with WMUR, Sullivan tells the story of a young Canadian girl who committed suicide because of bullying. After she died the taunting continued on her Facebook page.
“The family wasn’t able to do anything; they didn’t have access to her account.” Sullivan said. “They couldn’t go in and delete those comments, and they couldn’t take the page down completely.”
Five other states, including Oklahoma, Idaho, Rhode Island, Indiana and Connecticut, have established legislation regulating one’s digital presence after death. Rhode Island and Connecticut were first, but their bills were limited in scope to email accounts, excluding social networking sites.
According to opponents of Sullivan’s bill, contracts and provisions between the social media user and the site already lay out what happens to the page once the user passes. Opponents say Sullivan’s bill is unenforceable and incomplete. Some also say the issue would be better suited for federal law.
Ryan Kiesel, then a state legislator from Oklahoma, sponsored a similar bill in 2010 called the Digital Property Management After Death law. Though he supports states’ efforts to bring light to this issue, saying that it is a good way to get the conversation started, he also believes that this is a case that should eventually taken up by the federal government.
“Facebook and other online providers have changed their privacy policies to keep up with the times, but we still see a lot of flux within different sites like Facebook , Flickr, or Google, for example.” Keisel told ABC News. “The federal government should pass uniform laws to govern all digital assets because it is quite difficult for an estate to have to navigate endless numbers of digital policies postmortem.”
Kiesel, who now works as a civil rights activist, compared one’s digital legacy to the distribution of someone’s tangible assets after death.
“In Oklahoma, if you are administrator of the estate of a deceased person’s house and you find a box under their bed, you are well within your right to see what’s inside that box and if property is worth distributing, you should distribute it accordingly.” Kiesel told ABC News that the same idea goes for digital legacy.
Today marks the ninth Anniversary of the launch of Facebook, which currently has over 1 billion active users. That number, which has grown from just a million users in 2004, suggests there must be an enormous number of Facebook pages that must currently be occupied by deceased people.
Facebook has not completely ignored the growing number of deceased users. The site has created a function allowing Facebook pages to become memorials after they have died.
“Please use this form to request the memorialization of a deceased person’s account,” the site reads. “We extend our condolences and appreciate your patience and understanding throughout this process.”
Memorialization of a Facebook page, however, can only be done via online request. And the terms of service for Facebook’s say that it will not issue login and password information to family members of the deceased. The requestor must contact Facebook and request that the profile is taken down or memorialized.