Who hasn’t indulged themselves in the morbid fantasy of our friends and family’s reaction at your funeral? Aunt Sadie sobbing in her faded black dress desperately clutching her handkerchief. Best friend Charlotte managing to look heartbroken and stoic all at the same time. Your ex-boyfriend lamenting that you were the one that “got away.” Local florists are bringing vast amounts of flowers- more than the funeral home can hold, while a chorus of mourners keening in the background. Your Facebook wall is covered in desolated laments riddled in spelling errors and poorly executed grammar. Your followers are scribbling the message “she is dead,” out in the Twitterverse. What probably doesn’t factor into this daydream is visiting your lawyer and drawing up a will and assigning beneficiaries. Especially when it comes to your social media accounts.
Although most of us would prefer avoiding the enviable, the vast majority of adults do indeed try to get their estate matters into some order before their eventual death. Wills are created, finances are put in order and often funeral arrangements are made so survivors have a less challenging time dealing with the aftermath of our deaths. Now, however, many people have an online presence. With that in mind, it is wise to contemplate what happens with your digital information after your demise.
Internet users are leaving a large digital footprint. As reported by Forrester Research, 55.6 million Americans have some sort of account on a social networking site such Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Myspace, and LinkedIn. While more people sign up to these sites every day, Baby Boomers are signing up in droves. For many users sites like Facebook serve as the primary means of staying in contact with friends and family, allowing them to post their videos, pictures, musings, reflections, and thoughts. But how do our survivors manage all of this content, our digital property, after we die?
The simplest answer is to create a list of all of your login identification and passwords and designate someone you trust to be in charge of all of your online accounts after your death. In that vein, if you don’t want to rely on a list for your survivors, you could always choose to encrypt your data and give the decryption key to a beneficiary and or designate someone you trust as the executor to your online property as you are drawing up your will. If none of these are an option, a few companies, such as Legacy Locker, are willing to store your login information with both free and paid for plans which can be eventually accessed by loved one.
In most cases, many family members are more likely going to deal with the issue of not being able to access their loved one’s account information. Some people may find the memories and outpouring of sympathy that will inevitably be written on the newly deceased’s wall comforting. Others may find it unnerving to see their loved one’s image appear on their Facebook homepage and see the fond remembrances and pictures show up in their newsfeed. For those that want to deal with their loved one’s Facebook content, Facebook has instituted a policy in regards to handling the profiles of deceased members. Because Facebook states that the site will never release login information to anyone other than the owner, family members who wish to do something with the deceased’s account have two options: request that Facebook permanently delete the account, or request a conversion of the account to a memorial profile.
Deleting the account requires that the survivor(s) provide proof of death and confirm their next-of-kin status to the departed. Memorializing the account makes it clear that the person has passed away but “friends” still have the ability to see the deceased’s profile and post on his wall. The benefit of memorializing an account is that loved ones do not have to worry about “trolls,” or a “friend “ who is unaware of the person’s passing, leading to some ignominious posts.
Perpetu is on site attempting to make management of your social media after your death as streamlined as possible. Perpetu will manage your Facebook and Twitter accounts for free. You must pay to have them conduct your final wishes for your LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, and Gmail accounts. The site states, “With just a few clicks, you can specify the content you want to delete and those you want to share with your loved ones. Forward future emails, send auto replies. . . and finally, say goodbye from Heaven.” Once you sign up and choose the free or paid for account options, you are given an access code that you then pass on to a loved one you trust. It is important to remember that this code does not give your survivor access to your account or password, but rather upon your death, this code will set your final wishes into motion.
It is basic human desire to want to be remembered fondly and not forgotten. For anyone who would like to be remembered (frequently) by their friends on social media there is another option. Dead.Soci.al is a free service that manages your social media after your death, in essence ensuring that you continue to have a digital legacy. On its website, Dead.Soci.al promises states that it will:
- Send messages to Facebook, Twitter, and DeadSocial profiles
- Send out final messages to be released when you pass away and a series of scheduled messages for dates in the future.
- · Release unseen video and audio messages
- · Remain totally free to use
- Have a significant impact on your own legacy
Make your social networking accounts easier for those left behind to manage Dead.Soci.al’s aim seems to be enabling the creation of a classic memento mori for the digital age. The obvious here is that despite whatever post-mortem adoration you receive you will not even get to read the comments.
Social networking sites are starting to acknowledge data rights issues that arise from someone’s death. However, the responsibility of dealing with these sites ultimately falls to you and your family.