Amy wrote me last week asking about something that’s been rattling in the back of many Canadians minds – what do we do with the social media accounts of our loved ones after they've passed away?
Here is her question:
Our mother passed in the fall of 2014. She had a Facebook account and had only 1 friend who was one of my sisters. My sister is a photographer and my Mom wanted to see all of her photos so she created a FB account with her name and email address only. That was all the information she provide on her home page.
In order for us to delete my Mom’s FB account, FB is requesting a copy of either her birth or death certificate. I don’t really understand this request and am quite nervous about giving them either. I don’t have her birth certificate but I do have a death certificate.
I just want to leave her FB account in its static state but a family member wants it deleted. Your thoughts and insight will be much appreciated on how best to protect this very personal information of our mother.
To find answers to Amy’s questions, I asked tech experts David Papp and Dr. Tom Keenan, author of Technocreep to weigh in.
David Papp answers:
Facebook came out with their “legacy contact” setting just last year (February of 2015) allowing users to choose who can manage their accounts once they’ve passed away. Previously the profiles were turned into memorial pages.
Unfortunately if this legacy contact was not completed by the account holder, then you need to go through different channels to gain access. Here is the special request form for Deceased Person’s Account:
Facebook needs to certify that you are indeed who you say you are. It would be horrible if just anyone could suddenly get access to another person's account or cause it to be wiped out. In order to certify, they would like a copy of a number of possible documents such as death certificate, birth certificate or proof of authority. This is good due diligence and should be a reassurance and not a concern.
This is very similar to any other organization. Banks, associations, and government all need proof. An executor has a lot of work to find and deal with everything to do on someone’s estate. This is becoming increasingly more complicated with the online virtual aspect thrown into the mix.
Dr. Keenan answers:
Facebook likes the death certificate because it is definitive proof of death and they want to prevent pranksters from declaring random people dead. I have no reason to suspect that they do anything nefarious with it (I mean, you never really know) but out of an abundance of caution I would probably obscure parts of it (like a serial number, cause of death if shown) showing just the name and date of death. However, an even better idea is to provide a link to a published obituary which they will also accept.
As for what to do about it the choices are pretty much;
- a) leave it alone. Not a great idea because it could get hacked and people might start getting messages from the dead.
- b) "memorialize it" which is what FB recommends. See: https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/1605213279719667 this of course keeps the account from doing things like sending friend requests, but does keep the content (e.g. pictures) online
- c) Delete it. instructions are at https://www.facebook.com/help/103897939701143
It sounds like this is pretty moot if there was only 1 friend but you're right that sending a company in California a document like a death certificate raises hairs on the back of my neck so I'd recommend the link to the published obituary option as that is public record and searchable.