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As a former funeral director to-be, death has been a daily part of my life for some time. In my new line of work, however, it is not a topic I get to bring up often without looking like some sort of weirdo. Recently, I came across a blog pertaining to one’s digital afterlife. Of course, my interest was piqued and I began research: What happens to social media after death? It turns out most social media sites have a plan or an app available that acts as a “last will and testament.”
Google recently came out with an Inactive Account Manager, which is basically an “after death” plan that has been created as a way to choose what happens to your digital assets. Google explains “You can tell us what to do with your Gmail messages and data from several other Google services if your account becomes inactive for any reason….We hope that this new feature will enable you to plan your digital afterlife — in a way that protects your privacy and security — and make life easier for your loved ones after you’re gone.” With Google’s new option, users have the ability to simply have all their content deleted or choose a contact to receive all the data from their Google services.
Facebook has a different approach to dealing with social media after death. In the event a Facebook user becomes deceased, there is a way to memorialize the account. Some features of memorialized accounts are: no one can log into a memorialized account, friends can share memories on the memorialized timeline, and the content of the deceased user’s timeline is only visible to the population that information had already been shared with. Since Facebook users tend to publish more personal information on their account, especially teens and young adults, this approach could be a nice comfort to friends and family (unless of course the user filled their page with scandalous bathroom mirror photos).
Twitter has an app available that can be seen as either comforting or just plain creepy. With the tag line “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting”, it is fairly obvious what this app, _LIVESON, has the ability to do. By downloading this app, _LIVESON keeps track of your main twitter feed and will begin to populate your _LIVESON feed with similar tweets and actions. Similar to Google, you can “nominate an executor to your _LIVESON ‘Will’”, meaning they decided to keep or delete your twitter account. So, effectively, grandma could pass on, but with _LIVESON, grandmas love of gardening or cats could continue to populate your twitter feed for years to come.
MySpace has become almost obsolete; however, it may have been one of the first social media sites to have an “after death” option created. I stumbled upon the site “mydeathspace.com”, a site committed to memorializing deceased MySpace users, although, it is not affiliated with MySpace. To submit a death, one would simply provide name of deceased, cause of death, MySpace of deceased, and a link to the news article URL. It is actually a morbid little site because the way they display the names of the deceased MySpace users is by name and cause of death, for example, “Joe Smith – Died when he was stabbed 12 times in the chest.” Not a site I would personally take seriously.
A recent article in Biz Times, “Death in a digital world”, provided an interesting peek at the legal circumstances surrounding death and digital assets. In respect to accessing digital memories and assets, it “can become a complicated battle between copyrights and contractual user agreements.” One of the lawyers BizTimes interviewed, Brian Gilpin, stated “Not only can their digital assets disappear in an instant if any of those online services discontinue that person's account, but if that person passes away, and his or her family wants access to those accounts in order to preserve those assets, they might encounter a battle between whether copyright laws super cede contractual user agreements or vice versa.” Legislation is currently being proposed in many states to have a way to legally override user agreements to gain access to those digital assets.
I believe it is very smart on the end of social media sites to set up an “after death” plan. Even if someone uses Facebook or Google+ primarily for personal life updates, every thought and photo uploaded is still considered a digital asset and there should be a way to protect or destroy them should the worst occur to the user. It would not surprise me to see more social media and networking sites following the footsteps of Google and setting up a way for the users to control what happens to their digital assets in the future. As for me, I’ll be setting up my Google inactive account manager and, should the worst occur, I can promise you won’t be hearing a “tweet” from me.
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