A couple of days ago, the BBC’s legal correspondent, Clive Coleman, wrote a captivating story about Louise Palmer’s struggle with Facebook to maintain access to her daughter’s social media account. Becky sadly died in 2010 from a brain tumour.
Mother and daughter were very close and when Becky was ill and lost both speech and movement, Louise would log in with her daughter to help Becky stay in touch with her friends.
Louise said that not only was losing a child the worst loss there is, she also became very fearful that other people were going to forget Becky too. Having the ability to go onto Becky’s Facebook page and read what people have put on her wall was comforting for Louise.
However, with regard to Becky’s Facebook account, Mrs Palmer told Mr Coleman: “I’m her mum and this was her Facebook page, and its contents I felt were my legacy. Her online stuff should now be mine to be able to access.”
Facebook did not agree.
Time can be a great healer but, for some, that time can be interminable.
Louise Palmer’s story is not unique. Almost every week a story appears in the press about the difficulty parents have in accessing their deceased children’s social media accounts. Organisations such as Facebook, Twitter and others justifiably have stringent security rules. It’s a new frontier, however, and as a result it’s become something of a legal minefield.
The UK Law Society has strongly advised people to leave a digital legacy after death, and an increasing number of lawyers are becoming very vocal on the same issue.
Yet, it’s one thing to stress the need for a digital legacy, it’s quite another to know just what it is that we may be leaving behind, and exactly what we want others to do with it. Physical property is much easier than digital property to put a value on and that’s one reason we have found for people delaying their digital legacy.
However, when we have pointed out the enormous difficulties loved ones can face trying to unravel their deceased’s digital property, the need becomes much less blurry.
At Planned Departure we believe we still have a long way to go, but the more media coverage the issue of digital legacies receive, the more aware everyone will be of the need to adequately secure their digital assets.