The Facebook 'legacy feature' for after your death is necessary - so let's not be squeamish about it

Your social media will undoubtedly unlive you, and there are people out there who will want the opportunity to say goodbye to your online persona as well as your physical self

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The Independent Online

It can come as no great surprise that Facebook has announced the UK roll-out of its legacy feature today, which enables profiles to be managed after a user’s death. After all, social media is now an integral part of most people’s lives – why not make it a part of your death as well?

In case you’re wondering how the feature works, it’s fairly simple: you nominate an ‘heir’ while you’re still alive, and that person is able to accept friend requests, change your profile picture and write one final wall post on your behalf once Facebook has been notified (with proof) that you have shuffled off your mortal coil.

At first glance, this sounds a little morbid, but it makes good sense in practice. Loved ones of the recently deceased will now be able to change profile pictures to something a little more dignified, should the need exist, so your online friends’ final photo of you doesn’t involve necking tequila shots and/or licking your boyfriend’s face.  And they can then use their one wall post to provide information about funeral arrangements, donations or other necessary details that can no longer be counted on to appear in the local newspaper’s obituary section.

Facebook may not be real life, but so many of our experiences and memories are shared online nowadays that there’s a strong argument for human rights in the social media sphere. At the very least, you have the right to have your online experience tidily bookended. Funerals might provide closure for the physically present, but there’s a good chance that many more people – whether you’re a gamer, a prolific Instagrammer, a blogger or just the type of person who keeps primary school friends you haven’t spoken to in twenty years on your Facebook page – will want to say goodbye to your online persona. 

Take the example of Felix Kjellberg, better known to his legions of fans as PewDiePie, whose YouTube presence is so extensive that it comprises over 38 million subscribers. To put that into context, that’s roughly equivalent to the population of Poland. Elsewhere, celebrities like Katy Perry have translated their media success into a huge legion of online fans: her Twitter followers number over 73 million, or approximately one per cent of the population of the world.

Considering, then, how important an online persona and following has become to one’s professional life, it’s equally unsurprising that Twitter have started to crack down on users committing plagiarism – even when that plagiarism involves taking people’s jokes. The crackdown comes in the form of removing suspect tweets, and deleting the accounts of persistent offenders. It might seem like a draconian measure, but TV personalities and stand-up comedians, whose livelihoods increasingly depend upon extending their online reach and tempting internet audiences to their shows, have welcomed the move.

 

It’s safe to say that the social media explosion of the last decade has happened at such a pace that no-one has been able to keep up with it, including the tech giants themselves. You’re nobody until you’re somebody online – and that includes if you’re a business. Social media consultancy roles have flooded the jobs market in the last five years, suckering up bright-eyed young graduates who have lived and breathed Twitter and Facebook since their school days. As Twitter polices the cybersphere, Facebook is telling us in no uncertain terms that it intends to outlive us all. Just remember to nominate your official heir carefully.

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