WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS WHEN YOU DIE?
If you’re reading this, you likely have an online presence. The average person has numerous online accounts making up an entire digital life. There’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and on and on.
Don’t you want to control whether or not the contents of your digital identity are passed on to your loved ones or immortalized online—or even deleted entirely?
So what happens to your digital life when your actual life ends?
When it comes to how a company treats your account when you die, generally speaking, it varies from company to company. To be sure, read the terms of service for each social media account. But remember, the terms are always subject to change. As for now–
Facebook verifies reports that someone died by requiring a copy of an obituary or news article. Then they will either delete the account or turn it into a memorial page. Anyone can have a page turned into a memorial, but only family members or executors can have accounts deleted.
Twitter deactivates accounts for immediate family members or executors. They require a copy of a death certificate.
Instagram has the same ‘memorialize or remove policy’ as Facebook. Anyone can memorialize by providing an obituary or news article. Only family or executors can have the account removed by providing a death certificate.
LinkedIn allows anyone to remove an account by providing basic information about the account and a link to an obituary.
Generally, it’s not terribly difficult for just about anyone to claim that you are dead and have your account locked and turned into a memorial. Deletion tends to require a higher standard.
PROBLEMS WITH THE STATUS QUO
It is very easy to fake your death on social media. Requiring a picture of an obituary isn’t exactly the highest bar or the most thorough way to make sure someone is actually dead. (See, http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/238736/i-faked-my-own-death-on-facebook/ )
Each of these policies has one unfortunate thing in common–the account holder is not in control of what happens to their own account—someone else is deciding for them.
What if your son wants to memorialize your page but your daughter wants it deleted? They’re both immediate family members, so what do the companies do with competing claims?
IS THERE AN ANSWER?
Facebook will let you appoint a “legacy contact” who will be granted limited powers to manage your memorialized account (but oddly no power to choose whether your account is memorialized or deleted!). You can also request to have your account deleted when you’ve passed away, rather than choosing a legacy contact.
Google lets you grant access to your account to trusted contacts in the event you are inactive for a certain period of time.
Google’s policy is the closest to actually addressing the problem, by letting you choose who gets access and how much access they get. They are also the closest to solving the problem of whether or not you’re actually dead, since you get to choose the length of time your account is inactive before they give access to your trusted contacts.
New services allow you to put all your account information into an online lockbox, where you can save all your login information. ( https://www.passwordbox.com/legacylocker ). You can access it while you’re alive and set an heir who can retrieve it when you die. This is useful– not just for social media, but also for things like bank and insurance information.
You can also use a service that lets you write, schedule, and appoint someone to administrate messages that will be posted on your accounts after your death. (http://deadsocial.org/ )
WHAT ABOUT ESTATE PLANNING?
You can assign people to handle certain accounts, grant access to Google services, and request that Facebook delete your online presence. But you can’t be sure that the people you leave behind will follow what you wanted. Will your wishes be honored if you leave a will detailing what you want to do with your accounts when you die?
The law usually waits for new technologies to sort themselves out. And so far the law is still not completely resolved on these issues. But if your loved ones cannot agree with what should happen to your social media accounts, having an effective will which addresses these issues would certainly be better than not having anything at all.
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