Facebook lets users select a ‘legacy contact’ to manage their digital afterlife

Picture illustration.

Picture illustration.  (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

Facebook is letting users select a “legacy contact” who can manage their account on the social media site when they pass away.

In a statement released on Thursday, Facebook explained that it will memorialize the deceased’s account when informed that someone has passed away. The legacy contact will be able to write a post to display at the top of a memorialized Timeline. This could be used to share, for example, memorial service information, or a special message. The contact will also be able to respond to new friend requests from people who were not yet connected on Facebook, as well as updating the account’s profile picture and cover photo.

Users can also choose to give their legacy contact permission to download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information they shared on Facebook. However, the legacy contact will not be able to log in as the person who passed away or share their personal messages.

Facebook users can also notify the social media giant to permanently delete their account after their death.

Questions about the so-called “digital afterlife” have swirled since the rise of social media, posing big challenges for the likes of Facebook.  In 2013, Google became one of the first major Internet companies to allow users to select digital heirs to services such as Gmail and cloud storage, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The decision to offer a legacy contact option for users marks a significant shift for Facebook, which  has 1.39 billion monthly active users. Previously, when a user passed away, Facebook offered a basic memorialized account, which could not be managed by anyone.

“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 company said, in its statement.

On Thursday, Facebook announced that it has also redesigned its memorialized profiles by adding “Remembering” above the deceased’s name. The option of choosing a legacy contact is initially being offered in the U.S., although Facebook plans to expand the service to other countries.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers