When someone dies, Facebook walls become the memorial. In the case of Norfolk businessman and philanthropist Peter Decker, who died one year ago on Feb. 4th 2012, his wall is alive and well and still adding friends. It’s a beautiful tribute. But I still felt broadsided each time getting his birthday reminder and, worse, when Facebook’s algorithm reminds me I haven’t been in touch with Pete in a while and should check-in and see how he’s doing.
All this is up for discussion today because in Concorde, N.H lawmakers are pondering a study of whether control of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts should go to the families left behind after the user's death. The Associated Press reports, State Rep. Peter Sullivan is sponsoring a bill that would give control over social media accounts to the executor of a deceased person's estate.
Mr. Sullivan told the AP he filed the bill after learning of a bullying case in Canada that led to a teenager's suicide wherein those who bullied the teen posted on her Facebook account afterward. Sullivan’s bill would let family "step into the shoes of the deceased" and control posts. “The presumption would be that the family's rights trumped those of the service provider,” he said.
When it comes to social media, it is a legacy, sometimes a bad one. Many may value the privacy of their messages, tweets, and images beyond that of more tangible assets because feelings and relationships are often involved. Even after death some of us would prefer our families not be privy to our chat logs and personal message threads, and so the battle for cyberspace A.D. heats up.