What happens to your social media legacy when you die? The question has arisen with increasing urgency lately, put into focus by features like Facebook’s occasionally creepy “On This Day” reminder and addressed by scattered policies across social media platforms. Now, states are attempting to get a better handle on the issue, most recently Florida, with bills intended to create a more consistent framework for our online afterlives.
A bill passed unanimously in the Florida Senate on Tuesday, with a related bill planned for debate in the House, that would require an explicit agreement by account holders in a will or through an internet company to allow another person to take over an accounts if they die. The Florida Senate said the bill is meant to clear up potential conflict between internet companies and loved ones attempting to access accounts after death.
Florida’s legislature comes after several other states have created similar frameworks. Connecticut recently ruled only an administrator of an estate can access the emails of a deceased person, and Rhode Island passed a similar law granting the administrator access to email as well. Neither of those policies give the person access to the social media accounts of the deceased, but other states, like Oklahoma, specify that administrator access does include microblogging and social media accounts.
With these scattered, inconsistent state-level policies, some social media platforms have created their own answers. Facebook offers members the option to designate someone as a “legacy contact” to manage their accounts after death. Google has also allowed users to name heirs and prepare for “digital afterlife.”
Of course, social media is not the only factor to get in order after death: there is also online banking (reminding someone to cash out your Venmo after you die, for example), gaming avatars, and online dating accounts. Privacy advocates have long expressed the need to create consistent framework for death online, and some “digital legacy” companies have popped up to cater to that market.
The laws are slowly catching up as we navigate the awkward early stages of death on the internet: we don’t really “like” that someone died, and we don’t need to be reminded that “this day in 2014” we were happily hanging out with someone who is no longer with us. As we straighten out these uncomfortable glitches in the fabric of the internet, and until we have more laws like the one Florida is considering, you should probably designate the person you’ve talked the least shit about on gchat to nuke your accounts when you die.