Social media accounts after death
The digital age has seen remarkable advances in technology and the growth of social media means that we are now more connected than ever. In 2016, a staggering number of people have a social media profile online – the most notable example being Facebook that has more than one billion users. This technology has had an effect on many aspects of our lives including later life planning.
This has presented the problem of what to do with a person’s online social media presence after their death. Earlier in the year, we looked at how Facebook was becoming the world’s largest virtual cemetery. This problem has seen many social media companies develop processes for dealing with the accounts of deceased people. An increasing number of platforms are responding by allowing people to plan what should happen to their accounts in the event of their death – rather similar to making a will.
Facebook has two options where profiles of the deceased are concerned. A Facebook account can be ‘memorialised’ or completely deleted depending on which is the preferred option.
You have the option to choose which you would prefer by going into your Facebook security settings and editing the ‘legacy contact’ section. This section allows you to nominate someone to have access to your account after your death. This will allow the appointed loved one to make a final post before turning the profile into a memorial page where other users can post messages of condolence or memories of the deceased. The legacy contact can also moderate any of the posts on the page posted by other users.
However, many people – due to sudden death or lack of awareness – do not make use of this feature, meaning that the surviving family members are left with the task of dealing with the profile of the deceased. In this instance, family members can fill out a request to notify Facebook of the person’s death and either memorialise or delete the account. To do this, death or birth certificate are required as proof of authority.
Twitter is slightly unique in its policy towards accounts of deceased persons in that they do not provide access to the account for anyone – even if they are family members. However, Twitter will work with an executor acting on behalf of the estate of the deceased or verified family members to have the account deactivated.
Similarly to Facebook, you can request an account deactivation by filling out a form and providing documents such as proof of death or birth certificate. However, there is no option to have the profile turned into a memorial to the deceased person.
Considering that Facebook purchased Instagram in 2012, you would think that their policies towards accounts of deceased persons would be largely similar. Like Facebook, Instagram accounts can be memorialised, however Instagram does not allow anyone to access the account and therefore the content cannot be changed. This means that all posts, likes and comments stay on Instagram and are visible to the followers of the deceased. However, memorialised accounts are hidden from public searches.
People with a Google Gmail account have the option to enable settings that will share your account with a chosen person after a long period of inactivity. Family members of the deceased can apply to obtain the contents of a deceased person’s Google account and each of these requests are carefully reviewed by Google. Google will never give out the password of the account or any other login details.
Yahoo accounts have a similar process and Apple iTunes or iCloud email accounts have it written into the terms and conditions that any rights to your account terminate in the event of your death.
It will certainly be interesting to see how the responses to death from each social media platform will develop over time but it seems that the onus is being placed on consumers to plan and make provisions as to what should happen to their social media profiles in the event of their deaths.