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Facebook Offers New Options For Digital Life After Death

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You can leave control of your money or your house to anyone you choose after your death, and as of today, you can also leave someone in charge of your Facebook account. The social network now allows you to name a digital heir of sorts, a legacy contact. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: When Kelly Scarborough's (ph) grandfather was ill, he set up a Facebook account.

KELLY SCARBOROUGH: He wasn't on it a lot, but we wrote on his wall and, you know, added pictures.

SYDELL: When Scarborough's grandfather finally passed away...

SCARBOROUGH: My grandma went through his computers. She tried every password she knew he had, and she couldn't get on it.

SYDELL: This meant that they couldn't put some kind of official family announcement on the page when Scarborough's grandfather finally passed. She says the whole family found it distressing.

SCARBOROUGH: I think it would be nice to sort of freeze his page, I guess, and maybe just leave, like, a space somewhere on there for people to write, like, a memorial or whatever, and I love you and I miss you.

SYDELL: Kelly Scarborough, Facebook says it hears you.

VANESSA CALLISON-BURCH: Talking to people helped us understand that there's more that we can do to support people who are grieving.

SYDELL: Vanessa Callison-Burch is the project manager overseeing a new legacy feature on Facebook. While you're alive you can appoint someone to be your legacy contact. That person can make certain changes to the account.

CALLISON-BURCH: They'll be able to write a post that's pinned to the top of your timeline, for example, to share memorial service information or perhaps a special message.

SYDELL: The legacy contact will also be able to respond to a friend request and update the cover photo. There are things that a legacy contact cannot do.

CALLISON-BURCH: The legacy contact doesn't log in as the person or curate their past content or new content.

SYDELL: Kristin Simmons, (ph) who lost her sister back in 2007, says her family is glad there's a way to keep Facebook content up and that there still will be.

KRISTIN SIMMONS: To this day, we don't want it taken down. We all still visit it and look back at pictures and posts.

SYDELL: Simmons says it would've been nice if her sister had designated a legacy contact to have a little more control over the page. If you don't want to leave the bits and pieces of your Facebook life online after you go, Facebook says you can choose to have it deleted entirely when you die. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.

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