Local parents win against social media giants

Posted at 12:17 AM, Feb 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-06 06:16:45-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - On Tuesday, Virginia lawmakers unanimously  passed legislation in both the House and Senate that gives parents the rights to their children’s social media accounts should they die before the age of 18.

While parents Ricky and Diane Rash may never know why their 15-year-old son Eric killed himself, they say they’re relieved to know that other parents won’t have to go through what they did when seeking answers about their son’s death. [Read: Facebook sends family information about son’s page before his suicide]

“We’re looking forward to this being something really good to a lot of people,” Diane Rash says.

The two digital assets bills now head to the opposite chamber for a final vote.

The Rashes say social media giant, Facebook, denied them access to their son’s account in the months that followed his suicide, two years ago.

Eric had an account with Facebook, but his family says he changed his password just days before his death. The Rash's say they tried for days to guess his new password, but kept being denied access to the site.

“Without access to the full account, we could read his wall, but we couldn’t access his messages,” says Ricky.

As a last resort, the Rash's contacted Facebook to get Eric’s password. The family, at Facebook’s request, later sent a copy of Eric’s death certificate.

But within days, the Rash's say they received an e-mail from Facebook, denying access to Eric’s full account.

“They said they just couldn’t give it to us,” says Ricky.

Despite pleas to lawmakers for help, the Rash's were told federal and state laws had not kept-up with social media, therefore they—and other parents or spouses-- had almost no rights.

“I think as a parent myself, that rubbed me the wrong way,” Virginia State Delegate David Bulova, (D) Fairfax, says.

While several opponents argue that the laws need to be created at the federal level, Bulova says he wants a state law in place because he fears Congress won’t act soon enough.

“I don’t want another two, three, four or five years to go by putting parents in these kinds of awful situations,” Bulova says.

Republican State Delegate Tommy Wright, (R) Amelia, says he’s pleased the legislation is receiving strong bi-partisan support.

Several media companies including Google, AOL and Verizon spoke out against the legislation during committee hearings in both chambers.

“It was an uphill battle,” Wright says.  “This bill went through more hearings and before committees more times and had more interested parties than anything I’ve seen in my life.”

Despite their original opposition, Wright and Bulova say the companies agreed to a scaled-down version of the bill that applies only to minors.

Four separate bills were narrowed down to two pieces of legislation before Tuesday’s vote.

The legislation now crosses over for a vote in the opposite chamber, however little opposition is expected because both the House and Senate versions of the legislation are similar.