It is expected that by the year 2100, there will be 4.9 billion dead people on Facebook. I’m sure when any of the social networking sites started up, they hadn’t fully considered what would happen when their users pass away. But in recent years, there have been numerous cases brought to court about right of access to a relatives data, emails, messages and more. And if you are a person who is grieving, it can be difficult to think about what to do with you deceased loved one’s online accounts.
This is quite a morbid discussion, but one that is important to think about.
Firstly, from research it is clear that there is no “one size fits all” approach across the social media platforms as to what to do with a person’s account after they pass away. Facebook offers memorialisation and a legacy contact to manage your account when you pass away. Twitter only offers deactivation. And in many cases, you will need to provide a death certificate and proof of kinship (except for Instagram, which will accept a news article or obituary to memorialise an account).
Confused yet? I know I was.
Here are some articles online that you might find useful to either prepare your own accounts for after you die, or to help you figure out what to do with a loved one’s account.
Death, Virtual Grief and your Digital Footprint
What happens to my social media platforms when I die?
Some research out there also suggests that we treat our online content the way we manage backing up our personal data like photographs or files. At regular intervals (maybe once or twice a year), export the data you want to pass on from your social media and email and store it somewhere password-protected and give the password to a trusted person. This seems like a really sensible approach, but I know myself that I am not that organised! I’ll let you know what I am doing at the end of the article.
If you would like to learn more about best practices for backing up your online content, take a look at the articles here:
Ensure to include a Digital Executor to handle your Digital Assets
Finally, as with any scenario we can encounter online, our accounts can always be the focus of targeting from online trolls. There is a phenomenon called “RIP trolling”, which is a really malicious practice of posting hurtful, obscene or rude comments on a memorialised account. From the research I’ve done, this seems to be a very rare practice these days but is of course still a really upsetting situation for friends and family of the deceased person. If you are the legacy contact for a loved one’s account, it may be worthwhile checking the comments on a regular basis. If you do encounter any trolling, I suggest blocking the users and reporting them via the online channels available on the platform.
Another phenomenon that has quite a lot of research from the US is identity theft. Those looking to scam the state search through memorial pages, online obituaries and other records to get information they can use to steal someone’s identity. Any fraud that occurs in such a situation will not impact the deceased person’s next-of-kin thankfully, but it can be really upsetting if you get active post or updates from revenue about the person who has passed away. This article is very interesting – it does have a US-focus but the steps at the end of the article can be adjusted and applied here in Ireland too.
Protecting the Dead from Identity Theft
Finally, if you are interested in this topic in general, there is a really good book available called “All The Ghosts in the Machine: The Digital Afterlife of your Personal Data by Elaine Kasket.
As for me – I have decided to add a legacy contact for my Facebook account. I have also shared my passwords with my partner. And finally, I try to curate my online content semi-regularly and I don’t comment or post unnecessarily, or post anything which I wouldn’t say in person. Which is something that comes with experience, but is a great habit to practice.