What Happens to Your Social Media Accounts After You Die?
By Stacey Ross
A close friend of the family unexpectedly passed away not too long ago, and it was touching and supportive for his family and friends that we were able to honor his life online. The reality is that since more and more of our lives are going digital these days, it warrants a discussion that many of us have never given much thought to – namely “What happens to our social media accounts when we pass on?”
Here’s a brief look at how three popular social media platforms handle accounts of the deceased:
Twitter officials will start deleting accounts after six months of inactivity, while most other social networks won’t touch your profile unless specifically asked to by a family member or an agent of law enforcement.
Twitter will work with a person authorized to act on behalf of an estate or with a verified immediate family member of the deceased (with both requiring a government-issued ID). To deactivate an account, Twitter needs the username of the deceased, a death certificate, a written explanation, a current address and the relationship to the deceased.
LinkedIn will work to delete an account so that the username and password no longer work and the deceased individual’s profile is removed from the site. If you are taking action in this area, you will need to know the deceased member’s name, the company he or she worked at most recently, and provide a link to his or her profile.
It’s also helpful if you can provide LinkedIn with the member’s email address. You will be required to state your relationship to the deceased, as those without a close relationship might not be able to have the account removed.
There is a way to export the deceased user’s connections in case you have a need to contact them in the future, which can be useful for small businesses if an owner or key partner passes away.
If you are an immediate family member, you can go through the various steps to deactivate an account or you can turn a lost loved one’s profile into a memorial page. The memorialized timeline is accessible and searchable only by friends, who will have the opportunity to post and look at pictures. Nobody would be able to tag the deceased in photos or posts, send messages, or ‘friend’ the deceased. Similarly, the account will no longer generate birthday reminders, or show up in “People You May Know” prompts.
Millions of users have died since Facebook has been around. Since Facebook won’t delete profiles on its own, it poses a viable curiosity to some that one day the dead might outnumber the living!
What about privacy?
There is an ongoing debate over the ownership of “digital assets” and the laws are still catching up with the times. Certain areas are still unclear, and different laws in different states only add to the confusion.
What do you think? When a person dies, should their loved ones should be granted access to their information, photos, videos, etc.? Some say yes, yet others have concerns about confidentiality. There are crucial legal but also practical implications which come into play when loved ones are allowed to access previously password-protected accounts.
Making provisions as to who could legally assume responsibility for your accounts could help streamline the process, as well as leaving an instruction letter with your wishes, account names, and updated passwords.
A new plan endorsed by the Uniform Law Commission proposes legislation that would automatically allow loved ones to access social media accounts (though not post from them), with an exception for wills that specifically request restricted access.
Of course, privacy activists argue that confidential information kept online should remain secure. It would be wise for online enthusiasts to create a social media will, particularly if they want their digital assets to be accessed by others.
There are certainly tools available – actual websites where you can save all your passwords in a digital vault, along with instructions for your loved ones for when you die. You can even leave legacy videos or create “dead social accounts,” which enable you to communicate with people at predetermined times after your death. (Although the idea of curating information to be sent virtually once you are gone can seem a bit creepy, and could expose loved ones to digital identity crimes.)
Once these services receive proof of death, they will email passwords to people nominated by the deceased, along with any other instructions. This is a lot to “byte” off, but is well worth considering!
Meanwhile, while you are growing your digital footprint on a daily basis, give some thought to what happens after you’re gone, and to what degree you wish to maintain an online identity while you are dancing in the clouds of Heaven!
Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.