Social media and death: What happens to your accounts after you pass

Social media and death: What happens to your accounts after you pass

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CHARLESTON, W.V. (WOWK) — Many people plan for the day when they leave this earth, whether it’s making a will or even making their own funeral arrangements.

It’s a grim subject.

But what about your social media pages? What happens to those? Social media platforms keep us connected, but they can also be a reminder of our loss.

Current estimates show that more than 80% of all Americans, young and old alike, have some type of social networking profile — from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Tik Tok.

However, “when you’re gone, your social media is still there,” said Bill Gardner, assistant professor at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

“I still get birthday notifications of those who have passed years ago,” he added.

But do you want reminders of birthdays and anniversaries going out to people after you’ve passed on?

“We all have wills. We have plans for what happens to our stuff when we pass on, but we don’t always think about social media,” Gardner said.

There are ways to address your “digital death.” Facebook, for example, has a setting that allows you to assign a “legacy contact” who gains control of your page (or removes it entirely) after you pass.

Of course, not everyone would take that last step. “When we lose a loved one, we really do try to maintain some attachment to them,” said Dr. Jason Newsome, a counselor.

Although connecting with our loved ones who have passed via social media can be a good thing, Newsome offers a word of caution.

“I think it could also impede our ability to go through the grief process. It can cause us to become overly attached to a memory and overly attached to an identity that no longer exists anymore,” Newsome said.

Gardner said there’s another risk.

“People with bad intentions can then take them over and send spam or phishing or other sorts of messages,” he said.

So it’s important to leave your your digital assets with the right people.

According to 2019 Oxford University research, by 2100, there could be nearly 5 billion Facebook accounts of people no longer living.

“I guess you live forever on the internet if nothing else. When you pass, you’re there. You’re a digital ghost,” said Gardner.



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