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Social Media Ghosts: A Comprehensive Guide To Your Digital Afterlife

Image courtesy of mkhmarketing via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic. 

While life after death has been a widely disputed mystery throughout all of time, social media after death is a newer and more peculiar consideration.

In the last several decades, humanity has become increasingly embedded in the Internet, with the typical web user having an average of 26 online accounts, including social media, email, online banking, and other numerous platforms.

So instead of leaving behind only bodies and money, today’s humans are also leaving behind a number of password-protected entities filled with both personal and public information, also known as “digital assets,” which linger like ghosts unless otherwise specified.

There are already 30 million Facebook accounts that belong to dead people alone, the number of which is expected to exceed the living around 2060 – creepy, right?

And because you can’t very well get your Facebook cremated or bury your Twitter with you, policies and legislation are emerging regarding your digital afterlife to determine the future of the crafted social media self once its living counterpart has passed along.

Company policies on your digital afterlife

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Image courtesy of mkhmarketing via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic.

Here’s some of the “digital afterlife” policies of the web’s most prominent companies:

  • Twitter: will deactivate an account upon request of estate executor or a verified immediate family member, once a death certificate has been provided.

  • Facebook: enables profiles to turn into memorial pages, or will remove the account upon request of the estate executor or family member. FB also recently announced that “friends” of the user could create “Look Back” videos for memorial pages.

    (It should also be noted that FB owns user information and has in some cases continued to exploit the “likes” of dead users for advertising purposes. Oops.)

  • Google: created a relatively new feature called “inactive account member” which lets users decide the fate of their account before they die. If they don’t specify, access by outsiders to the account is possible only in rare cases.

Tap to see the rest of the list!

  • Tumblr: does not provide passwords to families of deceased, but will delete accounts upon email request. The same policy holds for Instagram.

  • LinkedIn and Pinterest: provide online forms that can be filled out with required information to deactivate accounts.

  • Paypal: will allow the executor of state access to accounts once they fax a death certificate, photo ID, legal documentation, and letter specifying what should be done with the money.

  • Microsoft: releases Outlook content to the next of kin, including emails, attachments, and addresses upon forwarding of required information such as a death certificate and legal documents.

  • Yahoo: accounts are non-transferable, the rights to which are terminated upon the user’s death. Good bye forever.

Digital afterlife laws

Obviously, its not just the online companies that have a say in the matter. Various states have already begun to adopt legislation determining who has access to what in terms of digital afterlife that would in theory override company policy.

States that have already adopted and put into effect such laws are Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island.

You can click on each state to read the specific laws, which differ accordingly regarding who has access to what.

Laws have also been proposed or passed in Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and Delaware.

Tech companies are none too pleased with these laws, allegedly because they conflict with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and could jeopardize late users’ privacy.

Planning “digital wills” for social media after death

Basically, it’s good to be prepared by deciding how much, if any, of your digital legacy you want to remain online – and who you want to own it.

Popular digital afterlife website The Digital Beyond maintains an extensive list of services and information about planning the future of your online content. Such services and the companies that provide them include:

  • Afternote: lets users sign up to digitally store important information in one safe space, record messages to love ones, pinpoint memories, and dictate social media outcomes.

  • My Wonderful Life: goes as far as to let users plan their entire funeral, with a digital obituary, memorial, and personal messages.

Tap to see the rest of the list!

  • MyGoodbyeMessage, Dead Man’s Switch, IfIdie.org, and Afterwords: allow users to write personalized messages to loved ones that will be sent out via email once they’ve passed.

    These sites work by sending out regular emails to the user to check and see if they’re still alive. Make sure to respond, or things are sure to get awkward with recipients.

  • ThoughtsBeyond and The Voice Libraryallow for post-mortem sending of video and audio messages.

    Better get to it while you’re still in your prime if you want to be remembered without wrinkles.

If this all seems a little morbid, that’s because it is! But it’s always good to be prepared for the worst. And the more you know about the future of your online presence, the better prepared you are to craft it as masterfully as you do your current one, filters and all.

Know of any other digital afterlife services or policies? Tweet us @Curiousmatic. 

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Jennifer Markert