Facebook and LinkedIn often suggest people to connect with.
That’s great, but what happens when they recommend people who have died?
As I talked to several friends about these unsettling “dead connections,” I discovered I wasn’t the only one receiving them.
Apparently, our digital life lives on — even when we don’t.
Much of our communication is online these days, as we bank, email, invest, store photos, socialize and more through a myriad of password-protected websites.
But what happens to all this personal information after we’re gone?
Do we really want our families seeing those questionable photos taken over that lost weekend partying in Vegas?
Or what about those angry emails sent to your ex?
Death in cyberspace is complex.
Even if you leave instructions in your will or trust document regarding your digital footprint, it may not be easy for loved ones to erase it.
According to a recent article on Businessinsider.com, there are approximately 30 million Facebook accounts of dead people. To deactivate an account, a death certificate, a link to the timeline and email address of the deceased user are required.
Facebook users can assign a “Legacy Contact” to their account to make this deactivation easier for their loved ones. Instructions can be found in the help section of Facebook.
In Twitter’s help section, survivors can fill out a form to request that a loved one’s account be taken down. But as far as images go, “Twitter considers public interest factors such as the newsworthiness of the content and may not be able to honor every request,” the site states.
Each online company requires something different to remove an account. So it’s easy to see how this process can become daunting — if not impossible — considering the numerous sites folks belong to in their lifetime.
In many cases, family members don’t have access to passwords or know what sites to look for.
Digital safe deposit boxes such as PasswordBox.com can help solve this problem if users set them up and share them with their families.
California doesn’t yet have a law to protect the digital assets of the dearly departed.
But in April, Assembly Bill 691, a measure authored by 57th District Assemblyman Ian Calderon, passed unanimously in the California State Assembly Judiciary committee. By all accounts, it’s expected to sail through upcoming legislative votes to become law.
The bill creates a process that allows individuals to decide whether or not they want the digital assets stored on their online accounts to remain private after they die.
“AB 691 addresses this issue by providing a clear path for fiduciaries to access relevant information to handle a deceased person’s estate, while respecting the privacy choices of the deceased individual,” states a press release on Calderon’s website. “The measure also protects the privacy of people who shared private messages with the deceased person.”
Currently, eight states have similar Digital Assets Acts: Connecticut, Indiana, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Idaho, Virginia, Nevada and Louisiana.
The online world is on top of the death-in-cyberspace issue, too. Numerous sites — free and fee based — offer funeral planning, digital lockers to safeguard assets, memorial sites and more.
The most comprehensive listing site I found was The Digital Beyond, which has links to websites designed to help plan your digital demise, or keep you alive online.
And yes, you can now send messages from the great beyond.
The site LivesOn.org calls itself “Your social afterlife.”
With its catchy slogan, “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting,” this free service analyzes your original Twitter feed, learning about your likes, tastes and syntax. Tweets appear via your LivesOn hashtag.
Nominate an executor to your “LivesOn will,” and they take it from there.
Use the “legacy tools” on Deadsocial.org to prepare email messages to friends and loved ones after you’re gone.
Literally hundreds of these sites and apps are popping up in the “digital death space” these days. The ones I looked at weren’t morbid at all — they offered a positive spin to connecting with those loved and left behind.
If I Die.net is a free Facebook app with a sense of humor on the subject.
“If I Die” posts for you from beyond the grave, claiming it’s “A Chance of a Deathtime to World Fame.”
“Up until now, you either had to be executed or to be a huge star in order to leave famous last words,” they say. “Now, you have a real chance to leave a message to be heard by the world. Only catch is, you won’t live to enjoy the moment. But at least you’ll know that if you go unexpectedly, it will be in style.”
They say life is strange, but digital death is even stranger.
BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.