opinion

Your Permanent Record

Stephen Yagielowicz

As a young man in grade school, I was kept in line by strict nuns threatening me with “black marks on my permanent record” — a nebulous but omnipresent scorecard of our success in life that determined our future prospects for everything from our education to employment, from community esteem to political electability, and more.

Pre-Internet, this “permanent record” was much less comprehensive and less widely available than it is in today’s cradle-to-grave social media world — where all of our most personal activities, choices and moves are voluntarily chronicled for the whole world to see. Beyond the online realm, sharing our lives with the people we care about is only human, and it occurs in a wide variety of ways.

For example, at the 2015 XBIZ Awards Show in Hollywood, a video featuring adult icon Christian Mann was presented, where he offered his personal insights during the last days of his life. It was a personal and moving tribute to a man who had touched so many lives and who had been such an important part of the industry’s growth and whose passing led to a palpable feeling of loss. So I was surprised to receive an email from Facebook a couple of weeks later, inviting me to wish Christian Mann a happy birthday...

According to Facebook, it is a place to share and connect with friends and family — perhaps forever.

“For many of us, it’s also a place to remember and honor those we’ve lost,” explains a Facebook rep, adding that “When a person passes away, their account can become a memorial of their life, friendships and experiences.”

To assist this process, Facebook recently introduced a new feature that allows users to designate a legacy contact that is authorized to manage their account when they pass away. A deceased user will have their account memorialized, and the legacy contact will be able to write a post to display at the top of the memorialized Timeline. The contact may also be allowed to respond to friend requests; and able to update the profile picture and cover photo. If authorized, he or she may also download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information the deceased user shared on Facebook.

The Facebook rep explains that to protect people’s privacy, the legacy contact will not be able to log in as the person who passed away, or to see that person’s private messages, and that users can specify if they would prefer to have their Facebook account permanently deleted after their death.

“Until now, when someone passed away, we offered a basic memorialized account which was viewable, but could not be managed by anyone,” the rep stated. “By talking to people who have experienced loss, we realized there is more we can do to support those who are grieving and those who want a say in what happens to their account after death.”

Memorialized profiles contain a “Remembering” designation above the user’s name, with participation in this afterlife affirmation being completely optional.

“Our team at Facebook is grateful and humbled to be working on these improvements,” the rep concluded. “We hope this work will help people experience loss with a greater sense of possibility, comfort and support.”

It is not a sentiment that should be taken lightly, given the lifelong bond that younger generations are building with the social networking giant.

“On Facebook, life begins at conception. ‘We’re expecting!’ your parents post. You don’t have fingers but you’re already accruing likes. A shared sonogram means hundreds have seen you before you’ve even opened your eyes. You have a Facebook presence despite lacking a physical one,” Josh Constine wrote for TechCrunch.com. “And when you grow old, your family will ask their friends to keep you in their prayers. But when you pass, you won’t disappear. Your profile will become a memorial page, a shrine to the moments of your life that you converted from atoms to bits. And once again, you will have a Facebook presence without a physical one.”

In an era when porn stars and legitimate adult entertainment companies are losing bank accounts and face discrimination in employment, housing, schooling and more, it is increasingly important for people to have the opportunity to curate their social media profiles and other publicly accessible information — even after their death. The alternative is to be saddled with a truly permanent record — one that will far outlast your temporary decisions on Earth.

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