What Happens to Our Social Media Identity When We Die?

If you use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, you may have wondered what happens when users die. Are profiles immortal? Are memories lost? Few users really know.

Curiosity about this topic dates to the days of MySpace. When young MySpace users died, their pages lived on – the social media portal went with a policy of not assigning control of a dead user’s account to another person, reflecting both privacy concerns and respect for the deceased. So how do the major social media sites in this decade handle such issues?1

 Facebook. If you pass away, your page won’t disappear – unless you or your loved ones decide that it should.

Facebook adopted a policy of “memorializing” the pages of deceased users. When an account is memorialized, no one can log into it any further. Memorialized pages are taken out of Facebook’s powerful general search option, but their walls remain open for tribute postings by Facebook friends. In fact, only friends can see the profile/timeline.2

Memorialization isn’t the only choice available. An account can be taken down if “verified immediate family members” or executors request. To submit such a request, you log into Facebook, visit the Facebook Help Center, and visit Basics » Manage Your Account » Privacy. A link gives you an opportunity to notify Facebook of a deceased user, and this leads to a simple form. Besides the basics (full name of user, page URL and the dead user’s email address), you must report your relationship to the user and state if you want the profile to be removed or not. It also asks for you to upload the death or birth certificate of the deceased, or another file document showing “proof of authority” to report the death under local law.3,4

An interesting development: in 2012, an Israeli company called Willook created a free Facebook app called If I Die. The app asks you to appoint three “trustees” for your Facebook profile. These trustees can use the app to confirm your death, whereupon your final status updates and videos will appear on your profile, either all at once or according to a schedule. There is no limit to the number of post-mortem status updates and videos you may create.5

LinkedIn. The “world’s largest professional network” might memorialize your profile if you pass away. In its privacy notice, LinkedIn states: “If we learn that a User is deceased, we may memorialize the User’s account. In these cases we may restrict profile access, remove messaging functionality, and close an account if we receive a formal request from the User’s next of kin or other proper legal request to do so.” So the policy mimics Facebook’s, though memorialization is not a given.6

Twitter. When it comes to deactivating accounts of deceased users, Twitter takes a very thorough approach. You must actually mail or fax the requested documentation to its San Francisco headquarters.

As its Help Center notes, Twitter requires you to provide:

  • A copy of the user’s death certificate
  • A copy of your driver’s license (or government-issued ID card)
  • A signed, notarized statement presenting:
  1. Your first and last name
  2. Your current contact information
  3. Your email address
  4. Your relationship to the deceased Twitter account user
  5. The action you want accomplished (“please deactivate the Twitter account for ________”)
  6. Either a link to an online obituary of the deceased or a copy of a newspaper obituary of the deceased (this is optional).

It only accepts this documentation from “verified immediate family members” or executors (specifically, “a person authorized to act on behalf of the estate”).7

When a Twitter user dies, no heir, relative, friend or executor can log into the account – no one. Its policy states, “We are unable to provide login information for the account to anyone regardless of his or her relationship to the deceased.”7

Your digital assets can be managed after your passing. Websites like Legacy Locker and DataInherit exist to help people safeguard and convey online data to heirs. Sites such as Great Goodbye, Great Respectance and 1,000 memories serve as portals for last emails, last videos and posthumous online tributes.

 

 

 

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Citations.

1 - www.nytimes.com/2006/04/27/technology/27myspace.html [4/27/06]

2 – www.facebook.com/help/?page=185698814812082 [3/8/12]

3 – www.facebook.com/help/?faq=265593773453448 [3/8/12]

4 – www.facebook.com/help/contact_us.php?id=228813257197480 [3/8/12]

5 - www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/18/new-facebook-app-if-i-die_n_1213284.html [1/18/12]

6 - www.linkedin.com/static?key=privacy_policy [6/16/11]

7 - support.twitter.com/groups/33-report-a-violation/topics/148-policy-information/articles/87894-how-to-contact-twitter-about-a-deceased-user# [6/16/11]

8 - www.itweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=45584:final-destination&catid=359 [7/22/11]