Changing responses to death in the digital age

Changing responses to death in the digital age

Death in the digital age – what happens to our status updates and selfies after we’ve gone?
Researchers Dr Paul Coulton and Selina Ellis Gray are analysing the ways in which western mourning practices are changing in the modern world thanks to the increasing amounts of personal data we leave online.

Selina Ellis Gray said: “Our deaths are now followed by the slow decay of a massive body of data, which include huge amounts created from regular social media use.”

As part of her interdisciplinary PhD, she is questioning what happens to all our tweets, status updates and selfies after we’ve gone and how can we begin to design for these remains.

Until the social media boom the popular understanding was the public mourning was in retreat in the west, with social and religious traditions no longer having such a uniform influence on the way we say goodbye. But in today’s Facebook age a new form of mourning has emerged. Selina Ellis Gray’s ongoing research explores blogs about grief, memorial pages on Facebook, tributes on Instagram, shrines on twitter, digital scrapbooks and support groups for the bereaved springing up in diverse and highly personal responses to loss. Decades of similar digital content is also decaying, posing new problems to those that are left behind to manage it.

Dr Coulton said: “In today’s digital age, when we die we often leave behind a digital legacy. Relatives are no longer only considering what to do with books, tea sets, vases and toolboxes but they are also thinking about online social remnants such as digital photos, videos, status updates and emails.

“While these ghostly reminders online are enabling new types of mourning practices, they are consequently presenting a number of challenges to the traditional role of custodianship as these remnants of digital life cannot be placed within rooms or on shelves in quite the same way as a piece of jewellery or a lock of hair.

“These remains are searchable, discoverable and open to reinterpretation such that the dead can return unbidden to haunt the living in unexpected ways.”

The threshold between life and death has also become a much more public event with the last status updates and final tweets of victims of events such as the Colorado massacre becoming global news. Selina has documented how such spaces online have become highly visited, with some gathering over 10 million views and daily visitors who consider these places as a positive focus for their loss. She hopes her ongoing research in this emergent area will have an impact on future technology design and also support services. Alongside her thesis, Selina has a number of publications forthcoming in 2014 and will be presenting at this year’s first ‘Death Online Research’ symposium with other leading experts in the field.

Dr Coulton said: “These changing responses to death – and the digital legacy we leave behind – are posing all sorts of new questions and challenges, not only for technology designers and professionals who provide bereavement support but also for society in general.”

What happens to your Facebook profile when you die? [infographic]

What happens to your Facebook profile when you die? [infographic]

Three Facebook users die every minute. That’s 1.78m deceased Facebook accounts in 2011 alone. What happens to your Facebook account after you die? Is Facebook slowly turning into a digital graveyard?
It’s a strange question, and one that, perhaps, only raises more questions, not in the least: Who cares? I’m dead.

As you fill the internet with status updates, personal images and videos, it creates some new, somewhat macabre, digital dilemmas, such as:

– How do you protect your privacy after death?
– How do you maintain your digital legacy?
– Do you want to live forever online?

These are the questions that an Australian life insurance company is trying to get people to ask themselves before they pass into the great unknown.

The company, Life Insurance Finder, has published a guide on how to prepare your digital accounts for after you die, recommending, among other things, the creation of a digital will and the nomination of a digital executor.

In terms of a digital executor, the company suggests the following:

“A physical will covers your wishes for your physical self as well as your physical assets after your death. But what about your digital life? Now that we live almost as much online as we do in the physical world we need to have a plan for managing our digital deaths too. In order to carry out your digital death plan you will need to create a digital will, as well as select a trustworthy digital executor to handle arrangements for your digital assets and digital legacy once you are gone. Just remember not to put the passwords for your digital assets in your actual will as wills are made public at death.”

The company also has listed the death policies for the accounts of its users, including those of PayPal and eBay.

The guide is a fascinating read, especially the bit about “digital resurrections”:

Where do you see yourself in 100 years? We have the opportunity to be the first generation to realistically think about that question. How you are memorialised ‘After Your Final Status Update’ was the title and topic of Adam Ostrow’s presentation to the TED Global 2011 conference. The editor in chief of discussed the possibilities for the one billion of us around the world with social media profiles, as machine learning technology combined with the massive amounts of data we share publicly, makes it entirely possible that you could live digitally forever.

The guide explains how some companies, like That Can Be My Next Tweet and Hunch, can look into your past social networking history and use that data to post tweets or status updates in your personal style and tone, meaning you could essentially live forever online.

Your Digital Legacy

Your Digital Legacy

This week saw the passing of one of our VA colleagues and it got me thinking… what do you do with your digital footprint once you’ve passed?

We hear a lot in business about risk management, succession planning,

ensuring your partner has access to your passwords, insurance policies and so on. Some businesses even write a plan for what to do in the event of illness or accident. But how many of those actually include information about what to do with your online presence – your website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest – the list is endless!

It seems like I wasn’t the only one thinking about this. Recently the Courier Mail/Sunday Mail ran an article about just this topic.

Your social media accounts store years of memories, pictures, data and activities. So it seems that now, lawyers are advising people to think about including a clause in their Will about what should be done with social media accounts on their demise.

Facebook’s policy is that a profile can be deleted at the request of an immediate family member or memorialised so that others can post tributes to them on the Wall. You can see more info about this at the Facebook Blog. Similarly, immediate family members or a person authorised to act on behalf of the user’s Estate can deactivate the person’s Twitter account.

Make a list of all your online accounts and notify your Executor or partner of those. You might keep this list (together with access passwords) with your Will at your lawyer’s office. At the very least let your partner know where they can find them. They’ll have enough to deal with in the event of your death without having to try and remember every online space you have inhabited during your life.

The same applies to your website – include information about who is hosting the site, contact details; the domain name registry; domain expiry information etc so that your family can get in touch with the right people with the least amount of fuss.

If you haven’t thought about it before, now might be the time – before something happens or you fall ill. It’s something none of us like to think about but, as the saying goes, none of us are getting out of this alive, so making things as easy as possible for those left behind should be your focus.

Do you have any ideas for helping your family sort out your digital legacy? Share them below!

Managing your Digital Estate

Managing your Digital Estate

The digital age has seen an exponential rise in social media and internet usage and, with it, a whole range of digital assets.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the total internet subscribers in Australia reached 12,358,000 at the end of June last year and 6.2 million Australians used mobile wireless broadband.

This indicates that a growing number of Australians are spending more time on their social media accounts, creating more personal material, with many having accrued thousands of dollars’ worth of digital possessions such as individually curated music, movies and e-books.

Digital Estate Blog
Digital Estate Blog
A Legal, Digital Legacy
How would you like your digital legacy to be addressed? Do you have any particular wishes – to memorialise the information, pass the assets onto family beneficiaries or, for privacy’s sake, have the accounts shut down? Bethanie Castell, a Wills and Estates lawyer with Adelaide firm Tindall Gask Bentley, offers these insightful recommendations for those who are unsure how to approach their digital estate.

The legal way to list your digital assets is by putting pen to paper. When drafting your Will, simply add a section for your digital assets and how you wish for them to be managed when you pass away.

Phrase your digital instructions as wishes, rather than legally binding directions, as, your executor will still be bound to the terms and conditions of the various online accounts.

Record all your passwords (work, banking, social media etc.) on separate document stored with your Will, so you won’t have to update your Will every time you change a password.

Lastly, appoint someone who’s technologically savvy as your Digital Executor.

“It may take time before we see Wills and Estates legislation specifically mentioning digital assets, but that doesn’t mean it is isn’t important to think about digital assets and provide for them while you can,” Castell said.

Your Family Future Checklist
So, when it comes to planning for your families future wellbeing in the years after you’ve departed, your estate planning checklist might look like this;

Make sure your own Will and Estate executor and beneficiaries are updated.
Clarify your Digital Estate, digital assets wish lists and your appointed digital executor.
Compile your digital assets purchased online, including music, movies and e-books.
And of course, keep your Lifebroker Life Insurance policy and beneficiaries up-to-date as well
Understandably, the concept of a Digital Estate can be quite confusing so talk to a legal Succession Planning expert. To discuss your Life Insurance and Beneficiaries options, talk to an expert consultant at Lifebroker today, so you can work towards the peace of mind that financial security can offer your family.

The information contained in this website has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or particular needs and is General Advice only. Lifebroker Pty Ltd (the authorising licensee AFSL 400209) or any related companies will not be held responsible for the merits of this advice to your circumstances.

Google Searching for Answers to Digital Legacy Problems

The digital legacy that a deceased person leaves behind has been a much-talked-about subject in the estates world in recent years.  See, for example, blogs on the subject by Moira VisoiuSaman Jaffery or Nadia Harasymowycz.  There’s a March Hull on Estates podcast about this, and another from July 2011.

While there have been some legislative and judicial developments in some jurisdictions (see Nebraska’s Bill 783 for an example), it has largely been left to private industry to resolve the problems created when a person passes away leaving a large digital footprint behind.

Fortunately, Google has stepped up to the plate and introduced a new policy to resolve this issue with respect to its services.  Google’s new Inactive Account Manager feature takes leaps forward towards resolving digital legacy issues.

Called a “digital will” by some media sources including the Toronto Star, the Inactive Account Manager allows users to manage what happens to their Google-related digital assets on death, or on prolonged account inactivity.  Users may set a period of time of inactivity (three, six, nine, or twelve months), after which Google will delete their data.  Before anything is deleted, Google will notify you by email or by text message to your cell phone.  If users would prefer that their data be preserved, there is an option to have some or all of it sent to trusted contacts.  The services to which the service applies include +1s, Blogger, Contacts and Circles, Drive, Gmail, Google+ Profiles, Pages and Streams, Picasa Web Albums, Google Voice, and Youtube.

This service is a clever and easy to use way to manage digital assets.  It does raise a number of questions, however.  How does this policy interact with legislation and case law about digital assets in jurisdictions that have these policies?  Will Facebook, or other online services follow suit and prepare similar policies?  Does an estate trustee under a will in Ontario have the authority (or the responsibility) to collect your digital assets from the person named on your Inactive Account Manager?

Perhaps the answers to these questions will become clear with time.  In the interim, it appears that we are left with a patchwork of policies created by different online service providers with different intentions and different philosophies.  Consider, for example, _LIVESON, a service that analyzes a user’s Twitter habits and generates automated tweets for him or her after death.  Control is placed in the hands of an “executor” who manages your _LIVESON “will”.  Although somewhat eerie, this is an interesting way to ensure that a person’s online presence not only persists after death, but continues to develop and grow.

If you are a Google user, it may be worth checking out the Inactive Account Manager and configuring your settings.  The photos, blogs, friends and videos left behind on a user’s death may mean a lot to grieving loved ones.

When updating an estate plan, digital assets are an important aspect to consider.  Lawyers should be cognizant of the issues surrounding digital legacies, and should discuss them with their clients.  People planning their wills should think about the intangibles they leave behind as well.  And if you aren’t sure where to find this information, try Google.