In my Washington Post article, I take on the question of privacy for the dead. Is history is simply gossip about dead people?
As social media sites amass the single greatest trove of human thoughts, feelings and activities ever recorded, historians will need to revisit how, or even whether, to disclose the private information of the dead, especially when those details are damaging to their reputation.
Privacy matters, I argue, even after death. Disclosing the private lives of others, especially when divulging their faults, demands a legitimate reason: to understand a historical event or phenomenon, or even to serve as moral edification for readers, particularly in the case of public figures.
Historians should interpret figures from the past, even those with mortal failings, with as much justice and charity as we ought to extend to the living.
I also suggest that social media networks consider offering users the option of a “living will” in which their intentions may be known, either to delete or memorialize their account upon death. That feature may help users realize that while their posts might seem ephemeral, they may extend beyond their earthly lives (like this one).
You can read the whole article here.