In this age of social networking, there’s one looming question: what happens when you die? It’s an especially important one for Facebook, which has more than a billion users, and often serves as the hub of someone’s online social presence.
The company built a system for dealing with death: loved ones can contact Facebook to get their dead relative’s profile deleted or “memorialized,” but other than that, the experience for a deceased person’s profile was fairly sparse. Starting today, Facebook is rolling out a new Legacy Contact feature that will allow users to – if they so choose – name someone who can tend their Facebook profile in their absence. The feature kicks in as soon as a loved one notifies Facebook of a death, and stays on in perpetuity.
A Legacy Contact will be able to accept friend requests for the deceased user, and pin a post to the top of their timeline – perhaps details about a memorial service, or a short message. Users can also allow their contact to download an archive of all their posts, photos and profile information for posterity. It’s a more secure way for people to manage the profile of someone who died, since they won’t be able to log in and post as the deceased and they won’t get access to their private messages.
To enable the legacy contact feature, users need to open their settings, go to Security, then select “Legacy Contact.” When a user sets someone as a Legacy Contact, Facebook will suggest they message that person and inform them of their responsibility.
Using a Legacy Contact comes at a cost – users who select them cannot have their profiles deleted. People who would rather have their Facebook presence disappear upon their death can instead opt to have their profile deleted as soon as the social network is notified of their demise.
The old system is still in place on top of all that – relatives for someone who doesn’t opt in to either option will be able to choose whether to memorialize their profile (which now helpfully adds the heading “remembering” above their name) or have it deleted.
Right now, the feature is rolling out to users in the U.S., and is completely optional.