Deaths Pose Test for Facebook: for The Wall Street Journal



Through the rural backroads of Southeastern Virginia en route to the home of Diane and Ricky Rash, I wondered what I might encounter. The Rashes had lost their 15-year-old son to a self inflicted injury a year ago - his father found him laying in a field face down, a gun at his side.


I pulled onto the gravel driveway, turned the radio down to a whisper and slowed my truck to a crawl. Although I had been invited to meet the family at their farmhouse in Crewe, VA I still felt like I needed to pace my approach. 


I turned left just before the oak tree and squeezed myself into a parking spot between two of the Rashes’ personal vehicles. Looking in my rear view mirror, I spotted Mr. Rash petting his dog and awaiting my arrival. I took a deep breath and exited. 
With his arm extended into an open calloused palm, our hands met and we made our proper introductions. He welcomed me into his home and introduced me to Mrs. Rash. Standing in the foyer I glanced past each parent and saw a portrait of their son Eric hanging on the living room wall; he was smiling back at me. 
Since Eric's death, Diane and Ricky Rash have been fighting Facebook for months to gain access to their 15-year-old son's account in an effort to find some clues into his unexpected death. The Rashes have contacted Facebook on multiple occasions to try and gain access to their son's Facebook password, but were denied because of privacy policies. Currently, the family has been lobbying lawmakers to change the policies of social networking sites in regard to minors. 
Prior to this assignment I had often wondered what happened to the accounts of those who’d passed on. In fact, just days before this job I had a friend who had died unexpectedly and I wondered if Juston would live on virtually and infinitely in the cyber world of Facebook. With postings of tributes to his life complemented with videos and photographs, his Facebook page served as a shrine of some sort. As with other friends that have passed, it offered an outlet and perhaps a sense of closure for some. After doing this story I learned that family members have the option to memorialize the page but gaining access to the original profile itself, as of now, is not an option. 
However, for the Rashes and many other parents it has become a wonder wall; a barrier of sorts to perhaps finding a truth behind a loved one’s death. The fact that Eric was a minor begs the question of what rights he legally had in terms of the current privacy laws? 

The images below accompanied a story for The Wall Street Journal.