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Who Controls Facebook Page If the User Dies?

Because it got MY attention, I took the title of my latest blog posting from the headline of an article that ran on March 16 in The Dallas Morning News. Here’s an online version of the article (with a different headline) from AP writer MIchael Avok.

To summarize the article, the mother of a man in Nebraska who died in a motorcycle crash tried to get access to his Facebook page, only to be stymied by Facebook who denied her access. She was able to get in to her son’s account, but only after a lawsuit and a 2-year “legal battle that ended with Facebook granting her 10 months of access before her son’s page was removed.” Facebook would have provided immediate access if – and this is Facebook’s wording, “if prior consent is obtained from or decreed by the deceased or mandated by law.”

Plain and simple, the mother was trying to piece together her son’s life to understand more about his last weeks and days – and retain an online archive in memory of her son. I understand that Facebook has its policies, but come on, Mr. Zuckerberg! This is both ridiculous and sad that the admins at Facebook couldn’t see past the end of their nose to enact the more-human perspective and grant Karen Williams access to her son’s property – and I do believe a Facebook account IS personal property.

This story reminds me of my most recent post about Wikipedia and how the PR profession is prevented from helping improve Wikipedia entries. Why? It ties to the Nebraska case in the sense that owners of social media content are making up their own rules instead of exercising the contents of the First Amendment.

I don’t think I’m alone in my thinking. I’m trying to think what would happen if I were to cease existing and my loved one wanted access to my accounts (there’s more than Facebook; I also have LinkedIn and Twitter). Unless they know my user name and password (which Ms. Williams didn’t, of course), is there no way they can gain easy access unless they go to court?

I know this debate will continue for quite some time. My hope is that Facebook will come forth with its own solution. Surely this cannot be the first time this has happened.

Coincidentally, I am in the process of redoing my will and am meeting this very day to sign the final version. I DO plan to ask my attorney what she thinks about all of this with regard to putting something in my will about access. After all, to me, social media is a chronicle of our lives, even if you do not believe it is nothing more than a time drainer.

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