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March 12, 2013

What Happens to a Facebook Page After Death?

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In the age of the Internet and social media, many people are storing massive amounts of personal information online using Facebook, Twitter and other accounts. However, what happens to this information when a person dies is still a matter of legal contention.

Although approximately three Facebook users die every minute, there is still no one method or law on the books for how beneficiaries can gain access to a deceased person’s digital records.

For Virginia dairy farmer Ricky Rash, this meant that he could not access his 15-year-old son’s Facebook account after he committed suicide in 2011.

“Once he gets an electronic account that’s password-protected, it’s — he’s entitled to free speech,” said Rash. “He has entered into a legal and binding contract with the social media sites.”

Businesses like Facebook prevent access to personal pages because of a 1986 federal law that prohibits companies from sharing a person’s information, even if it is stipulated in their last will and testament. Simply handing over passwords in a personal will violates most social networks’ terms of service.

While five states have acted to pass digital asset laws, Congress has no current plans to take up new federal legislation on the matter.


Quote

“The laws have just not kept up with technology. And what really frustrated us was when we learned that, as a minor child, his parents do not have access to his online accounts,” – Ricky Rash, father.

Warm up questions

1. What determines what happens to a person’s possessions after they die?

2. What do you think happens to someone’s Facebook page after they die?

Discussion questions

1. What do you think should happen to a person’s social media sites after they die?

2. Do you think social media sites should be able to withhold information from parents? Why or why not?

3. Do you think this is a matter of free speech? Why or why not?

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