What Facebook does when you die

Death is tricky for social networks.

Leave a profile active and you risk constantly reminding grieving loved ones again and again of their loss, with awkward reminders of how they haven't talked to so and so for a while or that their birthday is approaching.

Delete everything and you risk the wrath of those same loved ones, who suddenly realise there are countless precious moments caught in messages, in comments, in photos all over the service.

Facebook takes a middle path with an intricate system for dealing with deaths, borne out of many years of user frustration.

"Verified immediate family members" can delete an entire account when someone passes, or turn it into a "memorial page."

Memorial pages show as "Remembering [Name]" and essentially freeze a profile in place to be remembered. 

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"A memorial page stays there but it's not a live account. There won't be birthday reminders or anything but you can still see all of their photos and comments," said Facebook head of Australia/New Zealand policy Mia Garlick.

Family members don't need to know the password of the deceased - they become verified by contacting Facebook directly with a form. (There's no phone number.) Notably, Facebook allows one to attach a link to some kind of news article or obituary proving the death happened, as their moderation team doesn't want to memorialise a page of someone still alive.

Obviously this system is somewhat cumbersome, and can leave people stuck with embarrassing profile pictures for eternity. This is where "legacy contacts" come in.

Facebook Australia and NZ director of policy Mia Garlick.
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Facebook Australia and NZ director of policy Mia Garlick.

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Since 2015 Facebook has let users set a "legacy contact" up as essentially an online executor.

This legacy contact has the power to change your profile picture and cover photo, pin a post to your profile and respond to friend requests, in case you haven't accepted your aunt yet.

They can't read private messages or post as you on other people's pages - they would need your password for that.

You can set a legacy contact by going to your Facebook settings, clicking "Security", then "Legacy Contact".  It auto generates a quite awkward message to send to them.

In this menu you can also request for your account to be deleted should you die. 

Facebook will remind you about who your legacy contact is every year, just in case your circumstances change.

Garlick said Facebook did some promotion around the little-known feature when it launched, but wouldn't release any numbers on how many Kiwi users have utilised it.

So take this as a warning: If you want someone you trust to have some control of the place where most of us spend almost an hour of every day, take a few minutes to set them up now.

 - Stuff

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