Social media has become such a part of an individual's identity, and it's almost odd not to have any social media presence whatsoever. How can people know who you are? How can they look you up to find you again if they meet you by chance? How can they prepare for the first date you have later tonight? Whether you use Facebook to stay in touch with friends from high school, or you use LinkedIn to connect with those who can potentially get you a job, every means of social media is constantly shaping our digital legacies.
When we create identities on each of these platforms, we are adding to our own digital legacy, and what we create can say a lot about who we are. When we create an account or even just a post, we should be carefully crafting it in a way that is authentic. We should be promoting our real and true selves to the world, not a false version of reality.
Once we create a social presence, we don't just let it sit there. We are constantly adding and changing things by posting, tagging, untagging, etc. Not all these things can be deleted permanently, but they can be maintained. Think of it as a personal PR service that you do for yourself.
One easy way to maintain your digital legacy is to Google yourself. You can Google your full name, or your name with your location (if you have a more common name). Different variations will allow you to find different information. Also, check the image tab, to see which photos of yourself are searchable by others.
You should also make a habit of checking which photos you are tagged in on social media to make sure they aren't harmful to your reputation in some way. Photos that aren't "work appropriate" or ones that you wouldn't want your grandmother to see probably shouldn't be shared with the rest of the world.
These simple tasks to monitor your digital legacy are important because things on the internet can come back to haunt you. Once something is on the internet it's hard to control. Photos can be manipulated, words can be twisted, and people can find endless amounts of information about you.
Now that news has gone digital and articles are infinitely searchable, it's even harder than ever to maintain your legacy. In the Digital Legacy Survey, just 30% of respondents think news coverage plays into their own digital legacy. We spoke with Cindy Swirko of the Gainesville Sun and Clare Roth of WOSU radio to see the journalists take on the same question. Take a listen to the podcast below to hear what role journalists play in your digital legacy, what happens when you get acquitted after an arrest, and what to do if that quote in the local newspaper is possibly impacting your ability to get a job.
In this project, we have covered five topics in which all millennials should be more aware of how they are maintaining their digital legacies. By deleting outdated accounts, thinking before you post, taking more precautions about your personal privacy, keeping your self-image authentic, and utilizing social media in a positive and constructive way, you will gain a better grasp of your digital legacy in order to easily preserve it.
So what happens when you die? What happens if you're in an unexpected freak accident while driving to the beach, or a massive rhino attacks you while waiting for your drink at Starbucks? Best case scenario, your account gets flagged by a friend or family member as being owned by a deceased person, and the site (whatever it is) will take a few days to verify, and then remove your presence altogether.
Worst case scenario, your Facebook page becomes a shrine to your memory, and your Instagram becomes flooded with comments on your most recent pictures that detail how great you are, or how much you'll be missed by people who haven't spoken to you since high school. Is this the way you want to be remembered? Your bank account number may freeze, and your Netflix account may finally realize you're no longer watching, but YOU the person are still around like a ghost that can't be put to rest. Without a digital legacy plan to have post-death, you may still be haunting some people for years to come.
Meanwhile, while you're still in the land of the living, what happens to those memories when your computer crashes or when your iPhone gets stolen? What happens to our photos when our precious platforms suddenly become irrelevant? What if they die out the way Myspace did? Sure, the internet keeps things forever, but who knows how that works exactly. Just because the internet has the photos you lost doesn't mean you'll always be able to track them down or even download them.
The generations before us have kept mementos and given us history museums full of artifacts that provide tangible evidence of their existences. These pieces enable a sense of who our dead relatives were, but not enough to know their quirks, their passions, or their voice. Now, we live in such a digitally focused society where we will be able to give future generations a more complete picture of who we are, just by keeping record of our lives online. Click on the audio link below to hear Cathy Marshall discuss how digital legacies are a way to piece together our lives after we've passed away.
So, how will you be represented online? Millennials are not a generation of mementos, knick-knacks, or scrapbooks, so the digital sphere will be the only thing that prolongs us past our deaths. You already have your accounts, and there's always a way to improve how you maintain them, so now you have to decide how you want your digital legacy to be preserved. Below we have included an opportunity to receive a Digital Legacy Kit. In the kit, we offer guidelines on how to download your data from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, provide resources for account password storage, and instructions for how to craft a social media will.
So now we ask, what will be your digital legacy?
To get the Build Your Own Digital Legacy Kit from the Digital Legacy Project, subscribe to our email list. Your request may take time to process.