As of Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Social media is a cultural phenomenon of the modern age, and it adds a new factor into our lives … more specifically, what should happen to our Facebook and Twitter accounts when we die?
The issue is one of what is now called digital inheritance, which includes social interactions, writings, photographs and bank accounts.
In the matter of digital interactions, should these and other social media accounts be deleted or left in memory of the deceased? Also, an issue within this topic is whether the family should have access to the deceased’s digital content, or if this constitutes a privacy violation?
Some social media sites have policies related to death.
According to Facebook, more than 10,000 of its users die every day. Accounting for this, Facebook users can choose through their settings to appoint a “legacy contact” to look after your account or have it permanently deleted. Facebook will memorialize an account if made aware the user has passed away, so the social media company strongly advised its users to set up a legacy contact so the site can continue to be managed.
Memorialized accounts are a place for friends and family to gather and share memories after a person has passed away. Memorializing an account also helps keep it secure by preventing anyone from logging into it.
Users can also choose to have their Facebook account permanently deleted upon his or her death.
What of other social media sites?
Google has an “inactive account manager” feature, allowing users of Google services to transfer ownership and control of inactive accounts to a delegated user. Google also allows users to submit a range of requests regarding accounts belonging to deceased users. Google can work with immediate family members and representatives to close online accounts in some cases once a user is known to be deceased, and in certain circumstances may provide content from a deceased user’s account.
For Twitter and Dropbox, the company will work with an authorized family member or person to act on behalf of the estate of the deceased to have an account deactivated.
Twitter will also remove imagery of deceased individuals in certain circumstances, again to authorized persons or family. Requests are reviewed by Twitter, which notes that due to the type of content involved it may not be able to honor every request.
As social media has become such an integral part of many people’s everyday lives, the general advice is for users to set up their accounts to provide for smooth transfer in case of death. This is especially important currently as laws regarding digital property are playing catch-up.
In a 2015 interview with broadcast station KCET, Benjamin Orzeske, spokesperson for the Uniform Law Commission, a nonprofit organization dedicated to uniformity of state laws across the nation, says law has not kept pace with the evolving nature of digital property.
When people pass on, courts usually appoint another person, or fiduciary to manage assets, or property, he said.
"A generation ago, we kept our files in file cabinets, photos in photo albums, and a human being delivered our mail," Orzeske said. "Today, many of us use the Internet to perform the same functions."
Managing accounts of the deceased
For those managing the accounts of a deceased person, the first advice before you log on is make sure you are not violating terms of service of the provider. Though you may have the login information, you may not be considered an authorized user in the eyes of the law. Remember: Digital assets are considered as part of an estate, and most often the normal rules – and complications – apply.
While it may seem imperative to inform followers of the deceased of his or her death, don’t do it. Internet etiquette experts note this is impersonal and can be too jarring for those close friends and relatives. Instead, call those individuals, and other immediate family members, so they aren’t shocked.
Some social media sites are left as memorials for posts of remembrance by followers, but some also continue to have activity by those charged to do so. Etiquette here is to be respectful of the deceased, even if it is on social media. Stay away from drama or comments that result in the posting of family grievances.