Are Facebook Guilty Of Restricting Digital Legacy?

What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.
— Karl Lagerfeld

Who owns your digital assets, things like the precious digital memories stored as photos on your phone or computer? If you think their access is always going to be yours, well maybe think again. Facebook are reportedly on trial for not giving one family access to their deceased daughter's accounts.

"Have you got any photographs I can see?"

As a funeral celebrant, I meet weekly with the families of those who have lost someone they love. I listen intently to the personal stories, getting ready to write a eulogy that is full of memorable words. I always ask to see photos. Seeing pictures can help me immensely learn something unique about the relative who has died. Often, out comes an old chocolate box from the loft or the cupboard under the stairs. Dusty and faded moments of a past life held gently in the hands of a stranger. 

Scenes From A One & Only Life, Stored In A Cardboard Box.

  • Black and white smiles on a beach. 
  • A young couple leaning together beside the new car, an old car now, considered a "classic." 
  • Wedding smiles, white dresses, silver horseshoe dangling from a bouquet. 
  • A dad is gazing at his newborn with pride, admiration and wonder. 
  • And now he is a Granddad holding the precious next generations in the palm of his hand.

There is something incredible having the privilege to see these treasured memories that are stored in a photograph. Each one in my hand painting their unique story in 1000 word pictures. 

It is not quite the same when given a mobile phone and told, "swipe right." The physical pleasure lost, the memory somehow feels less significant and extraordinary. But the memory is not less special because it is digital. 

Locked Away Forever

While damp, dust and time decay the former, the latter can be locked away forever with a few unknown characters of a password. Digital legacy is no simple or inconsequential issue today. We tie the things that matter most, people, relationships, and love, to material things. I have seen first hand the utter turmoil when those images, the "pearl of greatest price" are no longer accessible because the impact of our death on our digital assets is still not considered.

Is Facebook Guilty?

Facebook is on trial in Germany according to Deutsche Welle (DW) Germany’s international broadcaster. A devastated couple whose daughter died is suing the global social media platform because they won't give them access to their dead child's account. The case has raged on now for years after the 15-year-old girl died in uncertain circumstances in 2012. Sadly, she died run over by an incoming train, and the parents don't know if it was suicide. They want access to see the posts and messages she had sent on Facebook before she died. How traumatic and heart-rending for her parents. It has echoes of the case in the UK with Morgan Hehir and Apple.

Tuesday 25 April 2017 marked the first day of the trial at Berlin's superior court of justice. While the judges have given two weeks to each side to come to a solution out of court, the consequence of the outcome could impact the billion who are now on Facebook and the billions who are part of their families.

Initially, the court ruled in favour of the parents saying that the digital posts and messages on Facebook were like the "analogue" letters and possessions of their daughter and the parents have right to access them. Parents who have minors have the right to see what their children are doing online. But Facebook appealed this ruling saying that this decision affected other users who had exchanged messages they maybe they would have considered and wanted to remain private.  It is a complicated decision with myriad significant consequences for anyone on Facebook ... or their families.

And Now You - What About Your Digital Legacy?

What have you done about your Digital Legacy? Who knows the password to your phone, or your computer where these precious memories and possible significant financial assets are held? What would you want to happen to your Facebook account or other social media accounts after you die? Have you told anyone?

There are many ways you can safely store and pass on your digital assets and if you would like more information on the subject download a free 39-page ebook below.



The Future Will See Digital Legacy Planning As Normal 

We will hear of many such stories in the future. Films will be made, documentaries discussing the issues broadcast, and more books will be written - but now it's the heartbreaking cases like this one in Germany that will maybe strike a chord and influence action. My heart goes out to this couple and I hope they find a solution and some kind of peace about this soon. But the reality I know, is you never get over a loss. Time does not heal. It helps that's all.


For more information on this trial in Germany see:

What Happens To Your Facebook Account When You Die?