What happens to your Facebook and Twitter accounts after you die?

What happens to your Facebook and Twitter accounts after you die?

What happens to your Facebook and Twitter accounts after you die?

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When someone you love dies, sure, their spirit endures—but so does their social media. And when their photos, memories or posts surface unexpectedly, it can be a jarring purgatory for those still healing from the loss.

Managing the digital afterlife is “something that people should think about but don’t,” says Jed Brubaker, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, who specializes on the topic. “There’s a whole societal infrastructure—(coroners, cemeteries, funeral directors)—for how we think about death,” he says. “For the most part, that has not extended very well to digital content broadly and social media specifically.”

That can lead to some painful situations.

You may have braced for that birthday reminder, for instance, but then Facebook unexpectedly surfaces an “on this day” memory that just hits you in the gut. LinkedIn nudges you to congratulate a colleague on a work anniversary just a few days after a fatal heart attack took them. Not just awkward, but ouch. That hurts.

Gone, but not forgotten or erased

It’s not that we necessarily want all social records and reminders to go away. Just recently, Twitter pulled an about-face following a backlash when it announced plans to purge some inactive accounts. Folks didn’t want to lose tweets from loved ones who had passed away.

“We’ve heard you on the impact that this would have on the accounts of the deceased,” the company tweeted. “This was a miss on our part. We will not be removing any inactive accounts until we create a new way for people to memorialize accounts.”

And LinkedIn is also working on a plan to memorialize accounts, expected to be ready in the new year.

“This is understandably one of the most sensitive topics for our members, and we want to make sure the account of any member who has passed away is treated with respect,” says LinkedIn spokesperson Suzi Owens.

You can ask LinkedIn to remove the profile of a dead colleague, classmate or family member by explaining your relationship to the person, and among other requested information, supplying the date of death, obituary, and the company the person most recently worked at.

The social network graveyard

For sure, our virtual, digital lives will inevitably outlast our physical ones.

In fact, Facebook could have more dead members than living ones within 50 years, according to academics at Oxford University.

But the broad implications of the digital hereafter remain grave.

“The demise of your biological body does not completely strip you of ethical rights such as privacy and dignity,” the study’s lead author Carl Öhman said last spring. “Overall, Facebook has done a pretty good job in navigating these issues and has balanced the interests of the bereaved with those of the deceased.” But he added that it is up to the bereaved families to curate the digital legacies of loved ones that “both accommodates their grief, and supports the community around the deceased in the best way.”

What to do when you’re still alive

You don’t have to leave all the specifics for friends and family to handle after you’re gone.

With Facebook, you can request to have your account permanently deleted after you die. Or you can designate a “legacy contact” who can look after your memorialized account once you pass. Such a person can then manage tribute posts on the memorial profile, by choosing who can see those posts or contribute their own sentiments. The legacy contact can also respond to new friend requests, delete posts and remove tags.

As with everything else you leave behind, keep in mind that the legacy contact might access content that wasn’t originally visible to him or her.

According to Facebook, however, what this person won’t see are messages, ads you clicked on when you were alive, pokes, security and settings info, and photos you automatically synced but didn’t post.

To get started via web browser, head to Settings on Facebook, click “Memorialization Settings,” click “Edit,” and then examine your options. Should you choose a legacy contact, Facebook will auto-generate an editable message to send to the person you’ve picked. On mobile via the app, whether Android or iPhone, it takes only one more step to get to that option, tapping “Account Ownership and Control.”

Brubaker, who consulted with Facebook on the design of the legacy contact solution, advises people to explicitly give family members or people they trust “symbolic permission” to do what they think is best after they’re gone.

“We hear from lots of bereaved a really deep anxiety around not wanting to disrespect or dishonor the memory of their loved one but being left with a kind of ambiguity and uncertainty about what they should do,” he says.

If wishes aren’t outlined or expressed before death, you as a family member can still request that the member’s Facebook account be removed. You will have to provide proof of the death (an obit or memorial card), and proof that you have the authority to make such a request such as power of attorney documentation, a birth certificate, will or estate letter.

All the many people with Google accounts can similarly set up an Inactive Account Manager to care for the person’s Google remains after death.

But there are limits, as Google explains on the web. “We recognize that many people pass away without leaving clear instructions about how to manage their online accounts. We can work with immediate family members and representatives to close the account of a deceased person where appropriate….We cannot provide passwords or other login details. Any decision to satisfy a request about a deceased user will be made only after a careful review.”

The request for a dead person’s Google data may also require a court order.

It isn’t entirely clear how or even if the social media data from a behemoth such as Facebook that people leave behind remains commercially viable—dead people no longer look at ads, after all.

But there are still strong cases to be made for preserving our digital legacies. They may prove useful artifacts of a bygone era. Future generations may learn from the pictures and posts we leave behind. And to family members and close friends, honoring the people they’ve lost and keeping their memories alive is priceless.

(c)2019 U.S. Today
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Please get your digital affairs in order

Please get your digital affairs in order

Please get your digital affairs in order

Click here to view original web page at Please get your digital affairs in order

I really wish I hadn’t had cause to write this piece, but it recently came to my attention, in an especially unfortunate way, that death in the modern era can have a complex and difficult technical aftermath. You should make a will, of course. Of course you should make a will. But many wills only dictate the disposal of your assets. What will happen to the other digital aspects of your life, when you’re gone?

There are several good guides to “digital wills” and one’s “digital legacy” out there, including e.g. handling your Facebook and Google accounts, and I encourage you to both go to those links and research the subject further. A few things seem particularly worth noting, though.

One is that this is yet another reason to use a password manager such as LastPass or 1Password . That in turn becomes an itemized list of your online accounts, and comes with a built-in recovery mechanism which can be used to pass them on to your survivors and/or heirs. LastPass (my password manager of choice) actually has a detailed guide to “preparing a digital will for your passwords,” and third-party guides to using 1Password for this purpose exist as well.

Another is the problem of two-factor authentication. What happens in case of an accident which also destroys your phone or Yubikey? Or if your heirs can’t get past your phone password? Do yourself and them a favor: create 2FA backup codes, and add them to your password-manager emergency-recovery kit.

The more technical you are, the more complex your digital affairs are. For most people we’re just talking about email, social media and photos. But for technical people, and in particular developers, things get more complicated. Do you own domains? Do your heirs even know you own domains, and who the registrar is? Are they technical? If not, by the time they figure that out, the domains may well have expired. Do you have services running on AWS or GCP or Digital Ocean? Do you have private GitHub repos, or public ones with a nontrivial number of stars / forks / issues / wiki pages? Do you administer a Slack workspace?

If you find yourself nodding along to the above, you may want to identify a separate “technical executor” and give them some guidance regarding what you want done with all of the above. Even if they have access, nontechnical people may not really understand that guidance. A little advance work can make it substantially easier for those tasked with taking care of your affairs.

Finally, what about any cryptocurrency you might personally hold? Generally, cryptocurrency wallets come with some sort of recovery seed. Is yours in a safety deposit box somewhere? Do your heirs know it’s in a safety deposit box somewhere? If you want to pass your bitcoins on to them, you’re probably going to have to let them know. (Obviously there is a security trade-off here; depending on how much we’re talking about, you may wish to be more or less cautious about this.)

So, to summarize: Do further research on digital wills, and construct one. Use a password manager, which acts as an itemization of your online accounts and ensure your heirs can access its emergency recovery key. Provide them 2FA backup codes as well, and recovery seeds for your cryptocurrency wallets if any. Identify a technical executor as and if appropriate. Also — and this is pretty key — make sure that a few trusted people know you’ve done all this. Won’t do them much good otherwise.

You may well even have occasion to thank yourself for it, in case of some hardware loss or disaster. Regardless, your heirs will definitely thank you. None of us think that we’ll meet our demise randomly, without warning — but I’m here to tell you, from grim recent experience, it does happen. Be prepared.

From digital wills to online memorials, psychologist Elaine Kasket on online life after death

From digital wills to online memorials, psychologist Elaine Kasket on online life after death

From digital wills to online memorials, psychologist Elaine Kasket on online life after death

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Psychologist Elaine Kasket, author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: The Digital Afterlife of Your Personal Data
Psychologist Elaine Kasket, author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: The Digital Afterlife of Your Personal Data

There are 2.37 billion people who regularly log on to Facebook at least once a month to send messages and check out photos, yet in 50 years’ time there could be more dead people with profiles on the platform than living ones, according to research by the Oxford Internet Institute.

What happens to all the information we’ve created online when we kick the bucket? Who owns it and what can we do about it?

These questions psychologist Elaine Kasket is attempting to answer in her book, All The Ghosts In The Machine: The Digital Afterlife Of Your Personal Data. Released in paperback this week, it aims to help us understand our digital footprints and how we can take control of them before it’s too late.

What Kasket wants you to know, first, is that it’s not a book about death or grieving, it’s about understanding how we use tech and its impact. “What people need to realise is that because of the involvement and control of tech companies, there are a lot of issues around access, a lot of expectations, that are not met. We assume that digital stuff obeys the same law of ownership and control as physical stuff.”

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Kasket says her interest in digital death started when she was a teenage goth in the mid-Eighties as the internet was starting to gain traction. But it really took off when she joined Facebook in 2007. When 32 people died in the Virginia Tech shooting in the US that year, the platform decided to memorialise accounts instead of instantly deleting them, following criticisms from family and friends of those killed. “I was interested from a psychological perspective in how people were using the site and commenting on photos to speak directly to the deceased.”

Dealing with memorialisation online was something Twitter recently grappled with. Last November, the platform had to roll back plans to cull accounts that hadn’t been used in more than six months following a public outcry over what would happen to accounts of the deceased. The Twitter profile of former Guardian journalist and writer Deborah Orr is a particular sore point for her friends and followers — author Jojo Moyes tweeted to say it felt like she had been “erased” after the platform removed the account.

But for Kasket, this is part of the conundrum. “What kind of moral obligation does Twitter have? It’s considered a duty of care to preserve the data of dead users. Why? Isn’t that just another instance of us relying on technology to do the things that we should bear the responsibility for ourselves?”

What’s online isn’t forever, particularly when it comes to storing all this data in the cloud. It takes money and energy to keep servers going — we already know the environmental costs of bitcoin, with one study last year estimating that for every $1 generated in the cryptocurrency’s value in 2018, and climate damages in the US. Think of the energy being used to keep dead social media profiles alive. As the OII figures demonstrated, it’ll only get bigger.

Then there’s the issues of trying to shut down a social media account owned by someone who is no longer here. Passwords could be put away and only an authenticated fingerprint could unlock them. Kasket is particularly worried about the impact of deepfakes: videos edited using AI to modify someone’s speech. “If James Dean is going to be deepfaked into a film, then a citizen can be deepfaked into a bank account being drained when the system is not aware the person is dead.”

So what can we do about it? You can begin by making a digital will. Farewill, a digital will-writing specialist, raised £7.5 million in funding last year (farewill.com). Make sure to include information such as: “I want my Facebook profile to be memorialised.” You can also nominate a digital executor who can remove or memorialise your accounts; Google and Facebook both offer these services, whilst Twitter says it’s “looking into” it.

Be wary of what you give access to. If you have digital skeletons, then maybe lock those accounts away instead of opening them up to future discoveries. Kasket also advises “going old-school” — the photos that you have stored on Facebook? Download them onto an external hard drive or print them. “It’s a fascinating conundrum that we’re dealing with,” says Kasket. “Once upon a time the dead had no rights to privacy or data protection but that’s before we left behind so much identifiable and personable data.”

Before you post that next Twitter musing on the headline of the day, maybe use that time to look into creating a digital will. After all, there’s no time like the present.

  • All the Ghosts In The Machine: The Digital Afterlife Of Your Personal Data by Dr Elaine Kasket is out now (£9.99, Robinson/Little Brown UK)

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