Family wins in fight against Internet giants, on hand when governor signs law

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – When their teenage son committed suicide two years ago, a Nottoway County family  made the decision to take on social media giants and change the law when it comes to parental rights over a child’s social media account.

Facebook denied Ricky and Diane Rash access to their 15-year-old son’s account in the months following his death, citing privacy policies meant to protect users.

On Monday, Governor Bob McDonnell invited the Rash family, including Ricky and Diane’s three daughters, to the Virginia State Capitol to witness him sign legislation that guarantees parents or legal guardians won’t ever be denied access to a child’s digital assets.

“We got something accomplished,” says Diane Rash. “Other parents won’t have to go through what we went through.”

Eric Rash, a straight-A student at Nottoway High School, took his life in January of 2011.  While Eric alluded to bullying in letters written to his parents, the Rashes say they were desperate for more answers.

“The ones left here, are the ones left suffering and in pain,” Diane Rash says.

After being denied access to Eric’s Facebook account,  the Rashes contacted lawmakers for help, but were told that they had few rights as parents because federal and state laws had not kept up with social media.

This past General Assembly session, Ricky Rash began lobbying state lawmakers, including Virginia Delegate Tommy Wright, (R)Nottoway, and Virginia Senator Frank Ruff, (R)Nottoway.

Both lawmakers sponsored legislation, and were present for Monday’s signing.

“From the very first meeting we had with Ricky, he just had all the confidence in the world, all the enthusiasm,” Wright says.  “He felt it was really something he needed to do.”

Without a lawyer, Rash- a dairy farmer, took on some of the most powerful lobbyists in the country, including attorneys from Verizon, Facebook and Google.

Rash was armed with nothing more than the love for a lost son.

“As this thing progressed, every communication industry that could withdraw opposition did,” Rash says.  “They came to me personally and thanked us for what we were doing.”

In February, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously passed Digital Assets Legislation that gives parents and legal guardians rights to a minor’s social media accounts after their deaths.  The legislation adds “digital assets” to the state’s probate laws, which govern how a deceased person’s property is handled when they pass away.

The Rash family also reached out to Eric’s classmates for support.

This past June, graduates of Nottoway High School released doves in honor of Eric, who would have been a member of the class of 2013.

While the doves symbolized Eric’s absence from graduation, his family says they could still feel his presence.

“They had tagged his chair with balloons and as soon as the students sat down, his balloons flew away, and no one touched them,” Diane says through tears.  “He was definitely there.”

On Monday, Ricky Rash showed the governor a tiny wooden cross on his tie, carved by a friend after Eric’s death.

“We’ve been blessed,” Ricky told the governor, who praised the Rashes for their determination and strength.

“Eric didn’t give us a choice but to accept his decision,” Rash says.  “It’s been our choice to make something positive of it.”

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