Facebook's 'Legacy Contact' Is Like A Will For Social Media

23/10/2015 7:15 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Facebook has enabled a new feature that allows someone to nominate a next of kin to manage the account in the event of their death.

It's pretty much the social media equivalent of leaving a will -- except instead of doling out your prized possessions, this person will manage your friends and your timeline.

Facebook has coined the term as having a 'legacy contact', which, it should be pointed out, is a completely different to giving someone your password and letting them run amok in your account.

Available in Australia since May (and in the U.S. since February), a legacy contact is defined on Facebook's Help Centre page as "someone you choose to look after your account if it's memorialised."

Once your account is memorialised, your legacy contact will have the option to do things like:

  • Write a pinned post for your profile (ex: to share a final message on your behalf or provide information about a memorial service)
  • Respond to new friend requests (ex: old friends or family members who weren't yet on Facebook)
  • Update your profile picture and cover photo.

"The way to view a legacy contact is as a caretaker," said Antonia Sanda, Facebook's head of communications, Australia and New Zealand. "Rather than someone having free reign across your account, hopefully it is someone you have had a conversation with and they would be respecting your wishes."

"We have thought deeply about why and how and what this person is able to do. It's not a frivolous exercise -- it's a serious and emotional issue."

As previously stated -- having a legacy contact isn't the same as letting someone have full access to your account. Things a legacy contact can't do are:

  • Log into your account
  • Remove or change past posts, photos and other things shared on your Timeline
  • Read messages you've sent to other friends
  • Remove any of your friends.

"The person you elect to be your legacy contact can't just run around the account," Sanda said. "There are things you may not want your nearest and dearest to see -- private messages for example.

"Those messages are private and personal -- if we allowed someone else to see them -- well, you can't explain context. It's been done with a lot of thought, and we did seek out feedback from various people on what should be allowed and what shouldn't be allowed."

Is it kind of creepy to think of someone managing your account once you're no longer around? Maybe. But it also serves a more practical sense.

"Think about your own social media," Sanda said. "You might not have every single one of your cousins as 'friends,' for example, but your legacy contact can add friends and family who are not connected to the person socially, so they have another avenue in which to remember them."

Sanda wasn't able to say if there was an "expiration date" when it comes to legacy contacts, but she did say it would stand to reason there would be.

After all, it's one thing to have a page where you can access memories of a dear and departed friend months or even years down the track -- it's another to have that page still active when decades have passed.

Want to assign a legacy contact to your Facebook page? You can do so here.

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