A few days after we posted “Facebook’s ‘Look Back’ videos send reminder: Get digital accounts in order before death,” which provided guidance to digital account users on how to make plans for their digital accounts before death, Facebook announced a policy change regarding how it would maintain the profiles of its users who have passed away in an effort to better preserve their legacies on the site.
As we explained in the post, before the change, when a user’s account was memorialized, the profile was restricted to “friends” only. This precluded anyone who was not a “friend” of the user from seeing or commenting on the profile. With Facebook’s new change, which became effective Feb. 21, 2014, Facebook will now maintain the visibility of the user’s content as-is, which will allow people to view the memorialized profiles in the same manner consistent with the user’s privacy settings.
The reason, as Facebook explained: “We are respecting the choices a person made in life while giving their extended community of family and friends ongoing visibility to the same content they could always see.” This means that if a user’s profile was publicly visible before death, it will remain that way after death. This gives Facebook user another reason to stay on top of Facebook’s privacy settings and adjust accordingly.
Facebook also announced that it will share the Look Back video of a loved one, which it created for users as part of its 10th Anniversary, upon a proper submission of A Look Back for a Loved One Who Has Passed Away request.
Not surprisingly, the policy change has elicited varied reactions including whether social media sites should be responsible for profile settings or if legislation is needed to regulate digital assets. As noted in our earlier post, only a handful of states have laws governing digital assets, and federal legislation focusing on the issue is in the very early stages.
With more and more people storing significant portions of their lives online, we can expect see more proposed legislation on this issue — especially considering the ongoing conversation around the need to modernize probate and estate laws to take into account digital assets.