Two days before Valentine’s Day, Facebook revealed an innovative feature: last will and testament… of sorts. Through the use of Facebook’s new “Legacy Contact” users will be able to determine what happens to their profiles after they die, according to Slate. This new feature tastefully provides a comforting place for grieving loved ones to connect with one another. Facebook is an important part of many peoples lives and it’s good to see that people have open minds in regards to planning for the future. The Legacy Contact is a good step forward towards changing the way we handle death in society.
Before the Legacy Contact, Facebook’s memorial options were limited, a relative of the deceased could either have the account permanently deleted or placed on lockdown, memorializing the page. My initial reaction to Facebook’s new Legacy Contact policy was annoyance. Even after death I can’t escape Facebook and its undeniable hold on my life. But after reading more into the policy and giving it some thought, the Legacy Contact is more important than I previously thought.
Families of the deceased will be able to “Write a post to display at the top of the memorialized Timeline (for example, to announce a memorial service or share a special message, respond to new friend requests from family members and friends who were not yet connected on Facebook [and] update the profile picture and cover photo,” according to Facebook’s Newsroom blog. “ If someone chooses, they may give their legacy contact permission to download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information they shared on Facebook. Other settings will remain the same as before the account was memorialized. The legacy contact will not be able to log in as the person who passed away or see that person’s private messages.” An official memorial page could be a great way to connect with far away family members when a death occurs. Though finding out about a loved one’s death through Facebook sounds horrible, by allowing a family member to post a message or obituary on the top of the page, distant family members will be informed quicker, giving them the opportunity to attend memorial services.
Unfortunately, these features have already been abused, proving them to be problematic in some ways. Just after the release, a Danish terrorist reported himself dead to Facebook two days before carrying out deadly attacks in Copenhagen, according Vocativ. Facebook reportedly took down the page due to a strict policy regarding the deletion of terrorist accounts. However, legacy contacts will still be allowed to download the contents of the pages for posterity. Terrorists will use whatever resource they can to carry out their crimes– that should not stop grieving families from benefiting from the new Legacy Contact and all it has to offer.
Our funeral traditions have altered over time and today we have a strained relationship with the concept of death. Even though death covers our television screens, whether it be through news or entertainment, we as a population have shown to be quite uncomfortable discussing or imagining death happening to us directly. The new Legacy Contact might be just what we need to start the conversation about how to deal with death, making things easier for family members when a person passes away.
Death acceptance sounds like an odd topic, but that in itself is a huge problem. Some opt to not make funeral arrangements for a terminally-ill family member because they can’t bear to have that conversation with someone they love only to find themselves lost after their death. Caitlin Doughty recounts one such situation in memoir about being a mortician, “Refusing to talk about [death] and then calling [death] ‘unexpected’ is not an acceptable excuse,” Doughty says of families who are do not take the time to discuss death with their terminally ill family members. To accept that we, or a loved one, will one day die not only prepares us to deal with the death when it happens, but also encourages us to appreciate our lives and live it to the fullest. By having a Legacy Contact, Facebook has created a space for families and friends to cope with and talk about death in a healthy way. We may not like to think of ourselves as one day being among the dead, but it is never too soon to prepare for a sudden death, whether it be through a written will or even just assigning a family member to be your Legacy Contact.
Sam Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.