Once, while scrolling Facebook a notification popped up, prompting me to “assign a legacy contact”. The assigned person, it said, would have control over my account in the event of my death. I shrugged and followed the prompts, automatically assigning my bestie to the position of “account heir”. A few seconds later my phone buzzed, as my confused friend on the other side questioned the weird notifications she had just gotten from the app.It’s a morbid thought, but social media sites have long sought ways to deal with the profiles of deceased members. Now, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Instagram is jumping on board, with accelerated plans to release a new memorialisation function to signal to other users that a member has died.The new feature, Katie Notopoulos reported for Buzzfeed News, will include a “Remembering” banner, setting up the users feed as a permanent memorial, and prohibiting people from logging into the account, even with a password. Other users can still DM the account, but, obviously, nobody will read the messages.“We’ve been working on these updates for some time, though this is one — among others — that we’ve accelerated in light of COVID-19 to help support our community during a difficult time,” an Instagram spokesperson told Buzzfeed.According to Instagram, if you see an account belonging to someone who’s passed away, you can request that it be memorialised. Immediate family members also have the option of having the account removed entirely. In order to memorialise account, as is also the case with Facebook, proof that the account holder has in fact passed away is needed. This can include obituaries or death certificates, and the process may take a while, particularly now when companies (even ones like Instagram and Facebook) are understaffed.
For some people, being able to visit the account of a lost loved one can be comforting. For others, the idea of sending messages to the account as if that person is still alive is a chilling notion.According to Independent.co.uk, Facebook sees 8000 of its users pass away every day, and that’s without a pandemic speeding up the process. The fact that instagram has now found it necessary to hasten the implementation of memorialisation features is a scary testament to how prevalent this issue has become, and the myriad unexpected ways it’s impacting our lives.We all spend hours on our phones now (probably still in our pyjamas, while eating banana bread), and we come across hundreds of social media profiles, showing us the lives of people we’ve never even met. It’s discomforting to think that as the pandemic grows, we may soon be shown their deaths as well, as more than just a number on the news.I’m still on the fence about how I feel about this feature, and about the fact that I was prompted to think about it in the first place. I was quite taken aback by Facebook’s unsolicited invitation to contemplate my own mortality. However, I can see how there might be something comforting in the fact that while we will definitely experience the loss of a loved on at some point in our lives, a snapshot of their lives will live on online (or the lives they showed the world, in any case).We’ve long been told that we need to need to be careful about what we post online, and with the increase in features which will in fact make out accounts permanent reminders of the lives we’ve lived, this is possibly more important than ever. Equally important is to ensure that the image we leave behind is an authentic one and, hopefully, one that will bring comfort and joy to those who view it once we’re gone.If you do choose to assign a legacy contact to your Facebook page (this can be done in the privacy settings) it’s probably best to warn your account heir of the fact, before they send you puzzled messages asking why the app is suddenly discussing your death. It might be nice to ask them for permission too, before assigning them with such a depressing task.
Instagram is working on account memorialization— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) April 20, 2020
disclaimer: I’m not actually dead, only in the inside pic.twitter.com/DVIDLLwTAk
All this talk of death aside, we have a lot to be grateful for and lives to make the most of right now. Let’s go out (or not go out at all, more likely) and live them to the fullest, because the evidence of that might just be around forever.