This week Facebook announced that users can now designate a legacy contact—an authorized user who can access your account and carry out your wishes with your profile after your death. Is this nonsense or a peek at the future?
Unfortunately it seems that many people are only seeing this move as pandering to the vanity of individual users. However this is actually indicative of an avenue that we will likely see more and more often in the coming years. It may sound silly, but in the near future, designating a digital estate manager will become as commonplace as an estate executor.
Most of us are now content producers–bloggers, tweeters, facebookers, instagrammers, tumblrers, pinners, and so on. When we post any of those things we create to a website we enter into an agreement written by the hosting service. In other words, once our content goes online, our relationship to it changes and becomes mediated by another party. Sure, we will always own the intellectual property, but if we post that property to websites, the way by which we access it is determined by that website’s terms of service.
What happens to our content if a site that we post on suddenly goes under? Presumably, because we keep backup copies of our blogs or photos, we just find somewhere else to host it. The ideas and content remain with you as its creator.
The flip side of that question is what happens if you or I suddenly go under? Physical objects are often willed to family or friends, those plans being made in advance of one’s demise. The legal structures for the passing of things has been in place for ages. However, when the creator of digital content passes away the ideas are left with no attachment to a person to manage it.
We are in uncharted waters with digital content. There is not yet a structure in place for ensuring that one’s wishes for their digital legacy are carried out. To make things even more complex, every social network or site host has their own terms of service.
Digital estate planning is among the newest services that created because of the ubiquity of digital content production. Facebook is being proactive by taking this step, and it is more far-reaching than many realize. They are taking the first step to establish a structure for willing the bits and bytes of our digital life to an heir who will carry out our wishes.
The questions you have to ask yourself now are: what are your wishes? Do you want everything deleted? Do you want it maintained? You never know who your pictures or words will touch, or who has found comfort in something you have created. Digital content has a far reach and this is just the beginning.