We all know we’re going to kick the bucket someday, and even though it’s not a pleasant thought to entertain, death can feel a little more manageable when one’s affairs are in order, such as getting funeral cover and planning your estate.
When it comes to death it’s only natural that our primary concerns are what will happen to our family, our material goods, or our businesses. However, few individuals stop to think about what will happen to their digital assets when they pass away. With the average person spending more time on the internet nowadays, our online presence has left behind a footprint that will likely forever be cemented in the digital landscape after one’s death, turning social media such as Facebook and Twitter into a massive virtual cemetery.
In November 2016, millions of Facebook users who logged into their profiles were greeted with commemorative profiles that declared themselves, their families and friends dead. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had found that his account had turned into an obituary that read: “Remembering Mark Zuckerberg. We hope people who love Mark will find comfort in the things others share to remember and celebrate his life. Learn more about memorialized accounts and the legacy contact setting on Facebook.”
While Facebook admitted that it was a glitch in their systems, the fleeting incident not only reminded us that life can come to a screeching halt at any moment but that it’s also becoming important to plan for our online demise. But, how does one go about protecting their digital legacy – the vast amount of online profiles pictures, videos, and messages on social platforms we’ve amassed over the years?
Hippo.co.za, the insurance comparison website, published an article Facebook, Death and Grieving, which explains the different options that Facebook users have with regards to their profiles when they die. You now have the choice of leaving your profile untouched or deleting it altogether. Another alternative is to have someone manage your profile as a memorial page where memories can be shared. However, as one grief expert pointed out in the article, having access to a loved one or friend’s Facebook page after they have died could complicate or relieve someone’s grief. The owner of the Facebook account therefore needs to be very specific in their instructions on managing their social accounts.
You can appoint a Legacy Contact, who will have the authority to either request obliteration of the profile or administer it as a ‘memorialised account’. Considering that you have put a lot of time, effort and money (if it’s a business page) into your Facebook account, you may not want to have the page deleted as it can have sentimental value for your family. After nominating a Legacy Contact, the appointed person will act as your online executor but won’t be able to login to your account or access your personal content. The online executor can only manage new friend requests, update profile photos or archive content. Friends and family will be able to write posts and share memories on the profile depending on the account’s privacy settings.
The option to memorialise an account applies to personal Facebook profiles only. In the event that you have a business page attached to your personal account, you may need to file more precise instructions and include them in the estate
Think about what you wish should happen to your business Facebook page when you pass away. If you have a business partner, they may already hold co-administration rights to the page and you may want to leave it like that. However, if you were the sole owner of the business, you could stipulate the plans for your company’s digital assets in your will. If you prefer that a someone close to you take over the business page, write down the login details so that they can access the Facebook page later on. You can also leave instructions on how to manage the page.
If you intend to hand over management of your business to someone else, you also may want to inform your clientele about the change of ownership after your death. Dedicate some time to compile a short post thanking your customers for their support and explaining the road ahead. The person who will be in charge of your business account can post the message to the page. Alternatively, you can use Facebook’s application If I Die to create and post the note, which will be published on your page posthumously. The app allows you to pick three trustees from your Facebook friends and it will be their responsibility to confirm your death before any of your pre-written material can be published.
Through simple and effective digital estate planning you can safeguard your online legacy and spare your family and executor a lot of aggravation down the line. To see how preserving your social profile can help your loved ones deal with the grief of your passing, you can read the full article on the website of Hippo.co.za, with whom this article was a collaboration.