What will happen to your Facebook account when you die? Facebook has been giving it some thought, and it's come up with what it hopes is a better way to deal with a sensitive issue.
When a Facebook user dies, the person's mourners can ask Facebook to memorialize the account. Until now, if an account was memorialized its visibility was restricted to friends only.
"This meant that people could no longer see the account or any of its content unless they were Facebook friends with the person who passed away," Facebook said in a post explaining the changes.
But starting Friday, memorialized accounts will be left as they are, so that posts are visible to whomever the user intended.
With the changes, Facebook is trying to strike a better balance between acknowledging the "wishes and legacy" of the deceased and serving the wishes of their loved ones.
"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," Facebook said.
The changes apply only to memorialized accounts, and while Facebook knows a lot about its users, there are limits. The company only knows a user has died if it is reported to them, a spokeswoman said.
The change shows Facebook devoting serious thought to a relatively new question: what to do with a person's virtual identity when they cease to exist in real life? It's a question other social media companies face as their usage grows, and as people post ever more personal information about their lives.
Seeing value in that information, other companies have sprung up to memorialize the dead, sometimes in curious ways. One site, Eterni.me, collects and processes a deceased person's personal information and uses it to create an avatar that their loved ones can chat with.
"It's like a Skype chat from the past," the company explains on its website.
LifeStory.com, currently in beta, lets mourners add photos, text, videos and other content to create a profile of a person who died.
Facebook will continue to think about how it should best handle the issue.
"Changes like this are part of a larger, ongoing effort to help people when they face difficult challenges like bereavement on Facebook," the company said.
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